Brain Tumor - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

Brain Tumor

Dr.Nilima  Bhalerao profile Authored by Dr.Nilima Bhalerao on 26 Mar 2015 - 12:47.

Brain Tumor

Uncontrolled growth of cells - unlike normal cells which grows till its optimum limit and dies, which is then replaced by new cell - leads to the formation of tumors. Brain tumor is formed by rapid growth of cells in the brain or in the surrounding area. The growth and the site of the brain tumor decide its severity and its effect on the other brain parts including the nervous system. The tumor formed can be either non-cancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant). The tumor may originate in the brain itself (primary brain tumors) or cancer in other parts of the body can spread to the brain (secondary brain tumors). As compared to benign tumors, malignant brain tumors are much more severe and life threatening.

Understanding tumor grades:

Grade I – Non-cancerous cells growing slowly.

Grade II – Cancerous cells.

Grade III –Cancerous cells with abnormal shape and grows faster.

Grade IV - Quickly growing cancerous cells.

Types of brain tumors:

Primary brain tumors in adults:

o   Astrocytoma: Often originates from the cerebrum and can be of any grade.

o   Meningioma: It originates in the protective layer of the brain (meninges) and grows slowly.

o   Oligodendroglioma: It originates in cells responsible for protecting the nerves and common among the middle-aged.

Primary brain tumors in children:

o   Medulloblastoma: It is a high grade tumor (IV) originated in the cerebellum.

o   Astrocytoma (grade I or II): is a low grade tumor that may originate anywhere in the brain.

o   Ependymoma: It often originates in the spinal cord.

o   Brain stem glioma: It begins from lower parts of the brain while grades may vary. 

The cause for brain tumors is yet to be found out.  Research findings show only a few risk factors.


Severity and the range of signs and symptoms often vary with tumor size, growth rate and its location. In general, common signs and symptoms may include:


o   Headache (in altered or unique pattern)

o   Frequent and severe attacks of headache

o   Headache accompanied by nausea and vomiting

o   Vision disabilities including blurred vision, diplopia, tunnel vision (loss of peripheral vision), etc.

o   Altered sensations

o   Loss of limb movement

o   Imbalance

o   Difficulty in talking

o   Altered behavior

o   Confusion

o   Lack of concentration

o   Sudden onset of seizures

o   Hearing loss

When to see a doctor?

See your doctor immediately, if severe headache with other signs and symptoms (mentioned above) is bothering you. 

Diagnosis of brain tumor may involve a series of exams. These may include:

  • Physical exam and questioning about symptoms experienced
  • A neurological examination: to detect altered vision, altered reflexes, loss of hearing, concentration, etc
  • Imaging tests: To detect the presence of tumor, often MRI, CT scans and positron emission tomography PET.
  • CT scan in other parts of the body.
  • Biopsy is (examining a tissue sample from the tumor)is done to assess ifit is malignant or benign.
  • Angiogram is done is done to detect through X-ray.
  • Spinal tap: A sample of cerebro-spinal fluid (CSF) will be assessed to detect cancer cells. 

The brain tumors can occur irrespective of age and gender but the exact cause often remains unclear. However, certain factors are believed to increase the risk of brain tumor. These include:

o   Particular age (certain types typically affect adults, while some typically affects children)

o   Radiation therapy or exposure to radiation by any other means

o   Family history of genetic diseases

The treatment is done, depending upon size, location, type of tumor and individuals overall health. Following are the available treatment options:

o   Surgical procedure: It is risky to remove tumors located insensitive and complicated areas of the brain. Hence if the tumor is located inaccessible part of the brain, removing the whole tumour may be possible to reduce the possibility of recurrence or if located in a sensitive part, only a part of it may be removed and the rest of it is subjected to radiation to kill the deeper part of the tumour. Brain tumor surgery carries several risks, including vision loss, infection, bleeding, paralytic stroke or may even lead to a coma state at times.

o   Radiation therapy:It is a procedure of destroying the tumor cells or cancerous cells using high-energy beams. These radiations can be either directed from outside the body or can be placed inside the body close to the tumor. It is also associated with certain risks, including skin irritation, headache, fatigue, partial paralysis etc.

  Stereotactic radio surgery:It is the procedure of destroying the cancer cells using multiple high-energy beams (a large dose of radiation) focused ona single point (small area). It is often performed with the help of gamma knife or linear accelerator (LINAC).

o   Chemotherapy:It is the procedure of killing the cancer cells using drugs consumed orally or taken intravenously. E.g.  temozolomide (as a pill). Side effects associated with chemotherapy may include nausea, vomiting and hair fall.

  Targeted drugs: It is used to alter the specific abnormality within the cancer cells so that cancer cells can be destroyed. E.g. glioblastoma (it restricts blood supply to tumor causing cancer cells to die) and everolimus (it prevents synthesis of enzymes responsible for tumor/ cell growth).

Alternative treatments: As such, no alternative approach was claimed to cure brain tumor. However, several approaches may help one to manage the changes caused due to a brain tumor. These may include:

  • Acupuncture: To relieve the symptoms using tiny needles.
  • Hypnosis:It is practiced by focusing ona single point and reducing awareness of the surroundings.
  • Meditation and music therapy
  • Practicing relaxation exercises (talk to your doctor before choosing the right form of exercise)

    As tumor may develop in sensitive parts of a brain including areas controlling vision, speech, coordination, balance, etc, experts may suggest some other therapies for better and speedy recovery. These may include:
  • Physical therapy: To restore and improve muscle and bone strength.
  • Occupational therapy: To make one ready to resume usual work and routine.
  • Speech pathologists: To improve speech that is altered due to a brain tumour.
  • Training to school going children: To learn managing activities with altered memory and physical changes if any.

Nutrition during treatment:

  • Must avoid eating white foods e.g. White bread
  • Must include whole grains in your diet
  • Must eat plenty of fruits and vegetables (bright coloured)
  • Drink plenty of fluids or water
  • Eat healthy fats e.g. Sources of omega 3 fatty acids (flax seeds)
*Disclaimer This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.