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FAQs about Brain Tumor

While we know TV shows don’t reflect real life, the way they portray brain tumors and their treatments on popular shows can lead to huge misconceptions.

What are the symptoms of a brain tumor?

A slow-growing benign tumor may have no symptoms and may be discovered incidentally on a brain scan done for another reason. Sometimes personality and behavioral symptoms occur. Overall, headaches can be a common symptom. However, it is important to know that most people with headaches don't have a brain tumor. Brain tumor-associated headaches often are worse in the morning and frequently are associated with nausea and vomiting. Other symptoms are new onset of seizures, weakness in an arm, leg or side of the body, visual disturbance or altered behavior. A rapidly growing malignant tumor is more likely to produce symptoms while a slow-growing benign tumor may have no symptoms. 

 

What causes brain tumors?

The DNA of a cell is damaged through a combination of mutation and/or inherited faulty genetic copy and a cell begins to uncontrollably divide, reproducing itself and becoming unresponsive to the normal signals telling it not to divide. Each year in the U.S. approximately 20 per 100,000 people will develop a primary brain tumor, which is a tumor that begins in the brain. Secondary (metastatic) brain tumors occur when cancer cells spread to the brain from a primary cancer elsewhere in the body. 

 

What risk factors might increase the likelihood of developing a brain tumor (and is using a cell phone one of them)?

Primary brain tumors have no proven environmental risk factors other than ionizing radiation. In the 1950s and 60s radiation was used to treat "cradle cap" and this was observed to have an association 20 years later with tumors in the brain. But now the only use of ionizing radiation is to treat certain tumors. Having an occasional X-ray is low risk. Electromagnetic radiation (e.g. cell phones) is NOT a proven risk factor. Certain tumors that run in your family might put you at increased risk, as well. 

 

Is a brain tumor always cancerous?

No. There are many types that are benign. In many cases these can be cured with complete microsurgical removal alone. However, some benign tumors can be in "malignant" locations that might preclude their safe, total surgical removal. In such cases if microsurgical resection is incomplete, there may be a role for the additional treatment of stereotactic radiosurgery, a form of focused radiation treatment performed by the radiation oncologist and the neurosurgeon as a team.

 

I've been told that I have a brain tumor. What should I do next?

Some tumors are imminently dangerous and require urgent surgery. Others may be less urgent and can be scheduled when convenient for the patient. Based on the imaging report, your primary care physician can tell you if it is likely a benign slow-growing lesion or a more dangerous tumor. Either way, it is important to make arrangements to see a neurosurgeon, preferably one with specific experience and expertise in treating brain tumors.

For more information about brain tumors, check out our Health (e) Library at wellness.gwinnettmedicalcenter.org

To learn more about the brain tumor program and services provided by our expert neurosurgeons, visit gwinnettmedicalgroup.com/neuro.