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Brain Cancer Treatment: Symptoms, Classification, Diagnosis & Recovery

The term "brain cancer" describes the abnormal development of brain cells that result in a mass or tumor. It can interfere with normal brain functions such as speech, movement, thoughts, feelings, memory, vision, and hearing. It is a disease of the brain in which abnormal, cancerous cells grow in the brain tissues. Typically, brain cancer is a developed form of a brain tumor. Primary brain cancer or a brain tumor develops from cells within the brain.

However, all brain tumors are not brain cancer. But one thing to note is that even benign tumors can cause serious problems by increasing intracranial pressure or obstructing vascular structures or cerebrospinal fluid flow in the brain.

Different types of cells in the brain such as gliomas, meningiomas, pituitary adenomas, vestibular schwannomas, and primitive neuroectodermal (medulloblastomas) can become cancerous. Gliomas have several subtypes, which include astrocytomas, oligodendrogliomas, ependymomas, and choroid plexus papillomas.

Brain Cancer Causes

The exact brain cancer cause is still unknown. However, its occurrence has been linked to several risk factors, including the following:

  • Exposure to radiation
  • HIV infection
  • Inherited abnormality
  • Smoking
  • Exposure to environmental toxins
  • Exposure to chemical toxins, especially those used in the rubber industry and oil refinery

There are two types of brain cancer, including:

  • Primary brain cancers: Primary brain cancers result when cancer cells develop in the tissues of the brain itself. Primary brain cancer cells may travel short distances within the brain but generally would not travel outside of the brain itself.
  • Secondary brain cancers: Secondary brain cancer is called metastatic brain cancer. It occurs when cancer develops elsewhere in the body and spreads to the brain. Primary cancer tissues can spread via direct extension, or through the lymphatic system or the bloodstream.

Metastatic cancer in the brain is more common than primary brain cancer. They are usually named after the tissue or organ where cancer first develops. Metastatic lung or breast cancer in the brain is the most commonly found brain cancer.

Brain Cancer: Grades

Tumors of the brain are assigned under a grade, depending on how normal or abnormal the cells appear microscopically. Grade measurements will help your doctor plan the most suitable treatment for you.

  • Grade 1: The cells look nearly normal and grow slowly. Long-term survival is likely.
  • Grade 2: In this, the cell looks slightly abnormal and grows slowly. However, the tumor may spread to nearby tissue and can recur later.
  • Grade 3: The malignant tissue has cells that look different from normal cells and these cells are actively growing and have a distinctly abnormal appearance.
  • Grade 4: In this, the cell looks most abnormal and grows and spreads quickly.

Some types of brain cancers such as meningeal and pituitary gland may produce few or no symptoms. Some of the brain cancer symptoms typically experienced by patients include:

  • Difficulty walking, seizures, dizziness and vertigo
  • Extreme fatigue and muscle weakness
  • Severe headaches and blurry vision
  • Sleepiness, nausea, and vomiting
  • Reduction in mental alertness, capacity, or memory
  • Difficulty in speaking, impaired voice, or inability to speak
  • Personality changes and hallucinations
  • Weakness on one side of the body and coordination problems
  • Reduced touch sensation

Brain cancer diagnosis may start with asking questions about the patient’s medical history. The results of this interaction will determine the tests that are required to be conducted. The frequently used tests for brain cancer diagnosis include:

  • CT scan: It is a series of 3-dimensional (3D) pictures of the inside of the brain taken from different angles using X-rays. It is not painful but sometimes a contrast medium is given before the scan to provide a better detail of the image. This contrast medium can be in the form of a dye injected into the patient’s vein or as a pill to swallow.
  • MRI: Nowadays, MRI is a preferred way to diagnose brain cancers because it creates more detailed pictures than a CT scan. MRI uses magnetic fields to produce detailed images of the body.
  • Biopsy: It is a less-preferred way of brain cancer diagnosis because it is invasive. A tissue sample is obtained by surgery or through the insertion of a needle into the tumor site in the brain.
  • Other tests: Some other physical tests such as white blood cell count, electrolytes, or examination of cerebrospinal fluid to detect abnormal cells may be conducted to confirm brain cancer diagnosis.

The brain cancer treatment plan is prepared by a medical specialist, who takes note of the cancer type, location, tumor size, patient age, and general health status before coming up with an individualized treatment plan. Typically, brain cancer treatment options include the following:

  • Surgery: If a brain tumor is accessible, small, and easy to separate from surrounding brain tissue, then surgery is attempted to remove all of the tumor cells by cutting the tumor away from normal brain tissues.
  • The only limitation of surgery is that tumours cannot be separated surgically if they are located near the sensitive areas of your brain. This surgery involves opening the skull (craniotomy), which carries risks such as infection and bleeding. It can be life-threatening in some cases.
  • An endoscopy may be conducted through a nasal route or via a hole in the skull to see the inside of the brain and locate the tumor. The identified areas of the brain with cancer cells are then excised or removed with the help of surgical tools.
  • Radiation therapy: It uses high-energy beams, such as X-ray or proton beams to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy is a nonsurgical procedure that delivers a single high dose of precisely targeted radiation. It can be applied to your entire brain. Whole-brain radiation is often used to treat cancer that has spread to the brain from some other part of the body.
  • Chemotherapy: It is a kind of drug treatment used to kill cancer cells. It can be taken orally in the form of pills or injected into a vein. Temozolomide (Temodar) is the drug most commonly used to treat brain cancer. Other drugs can be used depending on the type of cancer.
  • Targeted drug therapy: Targeted drug treatment blocks specific abnormalities, leading to cancer cell death. This treatment has fewer side effects than other treatment modalities such as chemotherapy and radiation.

  1. It takes time to recover after brain cancer surgery. The ability to care for others and yourself is compensated with and you may take some time to sink into the feeling of what just happened. You may not have the energy initially to think about anything or act to do something. But gradually the energy is regained with the help of doctors, therapists, and family members, and quality of life is slowly restored.
  2. Immediately after the surgery, you will be placed in the recovery unit for at least a few hours. During your stay, a team of doctors and nurses will be available to monitor your health. Once your health stabilizes, you will be shifted to the neurosurgery nursing unit for a few days.
  3. Surgery for brain cancer may affect the behavior, feelings, and thoughts of the patient. This is the reason why rehabilitative therapy after brain cancer surgery becomes important. The rehabilitation after brain cancer surgery may involve a team of experts, including physical therapists, speech and language experts, and occupational therapists.
  4. The rehabilitation phase starts in the hospital itself. The rehabilitation team will prepare you for discharge and may continue to offer their services at your home if needed.
  5. You are likely to experience discomfort for a few days after the surgery and discharge. However, make sure to call the doctor right away if you experience seizures or troubled breathing. Additionally, you should contact your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:
  • Trouble urinating
  • Hallucinations
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Tiredness
  • Problems related to vision or hearing ability
  • Confusion or memory-related problems
  • Worsened headaches
  • Difficulty walking
  • Weakness

Othman Elshekh Ahmed from Sudan
Mr. Othman Elshekh Ahmed


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Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Is it possible to completely cure brain cancer?

A: Brain cancer can be cured if diagnosed at an early stage. In the case of an advance stage, it is difficult to treat brain cancer completely with the help of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. However, treatment options can be used to shrink the size of the tumor and reduce the associated symptoms.

Q: What are the risks of brain surgery?

A: Formation of a blood clot, internal bleeding, muscle weakness, memory problems, and issues related to coordination, walking, balancing, and speech are some of the risks of brain surgery.

Q: What are the chances of surviving brain surgery?

A: Nearly 28.8 percent of males who are diagnosed with a primary malignant brain or spinal cord tumor is likely to survive for five years. The 5-year survival rate in case of females is around 31.6 percent.

Q: Is a craniotomy a serious surgery?

A: During a craniotomy, a bony flap is removed from the skull to look inside the brain and access it. As soon as the surgery is over, the surgeon places the removed piece of bone flap back and

Q: Is glioblastoma always fatal?

A: Some patients have lived for years with benign blastomas. However, malignant glioblastomas are almost always fatal and most of the patients die within two years of treatment. The patient may die within a few weeks if malignant glioblastoma is left untreated.

Q: How long does it take to perform a brain cancer surgery?

A: The surgeons may take around four to six hours to conduct brain cancer surgery. However, it may take even longer to conduct this procedure.