Brain Tumors are basically a growth or a mass of abnormal cells within the brain or close to the brain. There are several different types of brain tumors which exist; some brain tumors are benign (noncancerous) while some others are malignant (cancerous). Primary brain tumors are found to begin within the brain itself & secondary or metastatic brain tumors are those which begin in other parts of the body & eventually spread to the brain. Growth of brain tumors can greatly vary among patients. Rate of growth & location of brain tumors eventually determine as to how they will be able to affect functioning of the patient’s nervous system. Treatment options for brain tumors are most likely to depend upon the type of brain tumor, its size & location as well.
Signs & Symptoms of Brain Tumors
Signs & symptoms of brain tumors greatly vary & depend upon the size of brain tumor, its location & rate of growth. General signs & symptoms normally caused by brain tumors include the following.
- Change or new onset in pattern of headaches
- Headaches which gradually tend to become more severe & more frequent
- Unexplained episodes of nausea & vomiting
- Problems with vision, including double vision, blurred vision or loss of peripheral vision
- Problems with hearing
- Seizures, especially among people who do not have any history of seizures
- Changes in behavior or personality
- Confusion in matters which are routine & performed everyday
- Difficulties in speech
- Difficulty with balance
- Gradual movement in arm or leg, or loss of sensation
Right Time to Consult a Doctor for Brain Tumors
Patients must make an appointment with doctors in case they are having persistent signs & symptoms of brain tumors which are of concern.
Causes & Risk Factors for Brain Tumors
Cause of brain tumor is however not clear in people with primary brain tumors. Nevertheless, doctors have identified certain factors which are found to increase risk of developing brain tumors. Common risk factors which can cause brain tumors include the following.
- Age of the Person – Risk of brain tumor is found to increase as people age. Brain tumors are most commonly found in older adults. But then, brain tumors can occur at any age including certain types of brain tumors which are found to occur almost exclusively among children.
- Exposure to Radiation – People who have been exposed to a specific type of radiation known as ionizing radiation have increased risk of developing brain tumors. Best examples of ionizing radiation therapies which were used to treat all types of cancers & exposure to radiation caused by atomic bombs. However, other common forms of radiation like radio frequency radiation from cell phones, electromagnetic fields from power lines & radiation from microwave ovens have not yet proved any links to brain tumors.
- Family History of Brain Tumors – Small portion of brain tumors are also found to occur among people having a family history of brain tumors or genetic syndromes which increase risk of brain tumors.
Primary Brain Tumors Which Begin In Brain
Primary brain tumors are tumors which originate in the brain itself or within tissues lying close to it, including meninges, which are the brain-covering membranes, pineal gland, pituitary gland & cranial nerves. Primary brain tumors are found to begin when normal cells mutate & acquire errors within their DNA. These mutations eventually allow brain cells to grow & divide at an increased rate & thereby continue living further even when healthy brain cells are normally found to die. These also usually result in a mass of abnormal cells which form into a tumor. However, primary brain tumors are much less common than secondary brain tumors in which cancer generally begins somewhere else in the body & subsequently spreads to the brain.
Types of Brain Tumors
There are many different types of brain tumors which exist. Each one of these gets its name from the type of cells which are involved in the making of the tumor. Some of the best examples include the following.
- Gliomas – These are tumors which either begin in the brain or spinal cord & include many varieties like oligodendrogliomas, oligoastrocytomas, glioblastomas, ependymoma & astrocytomas.
- Meningiomas – Meningiomas are tumors which arise from within membranes (meninges) which surround the brain & the spinal cord. However, most meningiomas are found to be benign (noncancerous).
- Schwannomas – Acoustic Neuromas – These are generally benign (noncancerous) tumors which develop upon the nerves controlling hearing & balance leading from the inner ear to the brain.
- Pituitary Adenomas – These growths are also mostly benign tumors (noncancerous) which develop within the pituitary gland located at the base of the brain. However, these benign tumors are found to affect the pituitary hormones & which subsequently can effect throughout the body.
- Medulloblastomas – These are mostly common cancerous (malignant) brain tumors which are found in children. Medulloblastomas usually start within the lower back portion of the brain & subsequently tend to spread throughout the spinal fluid. However, these tumors are less common in adults, but at times they are found to occur.
- PNETs – Medically known as Primitive Neuroectodermal Tumors, PNETs are however rare but cancerous tumors which start in fetal (embryonic) cells within the brain. Moreover, they are found to occur anywhere within the brain.
- Germ Cell Tumors – Germ cell tumors are most often found to develop during childhood in place where testicles or ovaries will form. However, germ cell tumors are also found to move to other parts of the body, like to the brain.
- Craniopharyngiomas – These are rare & noncancerous (benign) tumors which start close to the brain’s pituitary gland that secretes hormones which control many functions of the body. Craniopharyngiomas can therefore affect the pituitary gland & other structures close to the brain as they grow very slowly.
Secondary Cancer Which Begin Elsewhere & Spread to the Brain
Secondary or Metastatic Brain Tumors are tumors which result from cancer which has started elsewhere in the body & subsequently spread or metastasized to the brain. Secondary brain tumors are most often found to occur among people who are having a history of cancer. However in rare cases, metastatic brain tumor may be the first sign of cancer which originated elsewhere within the body. Moreover, secondary brain tumors are far more commonly found than primary brain tumors. Although, any type of cancer can spread to the brain, but the most common types of cancers which can spread to the brain include the following.
- Breast Cancer
- Kidney Cancer
- Colon Cancer
- Lung Cancer
Diagnosing Brain Tumors
When a person is suspected of having a brain tumor, doctors would most often recommend a number of tests & procedures including the following.
- Brain Tumor Tests for Diagnosis
- Neurological Examination – Neurological examinations may include, among others, checking of reflexes, strength, coordination, balance, hearing & vision. Experience of difficulty in one or more areas will provide clues as to the portion of the brain which could be affected by the tumor.
- Imaging Tests – MRI or Magnetic Resonance Imaging is commonly utilized to help in diagnosing brain tumors. In quite a few cases contrast dye may also be injected through a vein in the arm during MRI study. A number of specialized MRI scan components normally applied include Perfusion MRI, Functional MRI & Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy which may prove helpful to doctors for evaluating the tumor & determining the treatment plan. Other imaging tests which are performed on brain tumor patients include CT scan or Computerized Tomography & PET or Positron Emission Tomography.
- Tests to Find Cancer in Other Parts of the Body – When it is suspected that the patient’s brain tumor may be resulting from cancer which has spread from another part of the body, doctors may often recommend tests & procedures in order to determine the location where the cancer has originated. One such useful test may be a CT scan of the chest so as to look for signs of lung cancer in brain tumor patients.
- Biopsy – Collecting & Testing Sample of Abnormal Tissue – Biopsy is usually performed as part of an operation which is meant to remove the brain tumor, or in other cases biopsy can be performed with help of a needle. Stereotactic needle biopsy can also be performed for brain tumors which are in areas hard to reach or in extremely sensitive areas within the patient’s brain which might get damaged by employing a more extensive operation. For this purpose, neurosurgeons typically drill a small hole into the skull of the patient. A thin needle is subsequently inserted through the hole & tissue is removed. This procedure is frequently guided by MRI or CT scanning techniques. Sample collected through biopsy is then viewed under microscope so as to determine if it is benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Information collected through biopsy is critical to establish diagnosis & prognosis & most importantly in determining a treatment plan.
Treatment Options for Brain Tumors
Treatment options for brain tumors depend upon the location, size & type of tumor & as well as the preference & overall health of the patient.
- Surgery – Surgeons will usually work to remove as much of the brain tumor as possible through surgery when it is located in a place which is conveniently accessible. However, in some cases tumors are small & can easily be separated from the surrounding brain tissue & which makes complete removal quite possible. But in several other cases, tumors are located near sensitive areas within the brain & cannot be separated from surrounding brain tissue, thereby making the possibility of surgical procedure very risky. In such situations doctors will only remove as much of the brain tumor which is safely possible. Quite often, even removal of a portion of brain tumor is found to help reduce signs & symptoms. Surgical application of removing brain tumors invariably carries risks of bleeding & infection. Other risks involved in brain tumor surgery depend upon the part of the brain where the tumor is located. Like for example, surgery for brain tumors near nerves which connect to eyes will carry risk of loss of vision.
- Radiation Therapy – Radiation therapy utilizes high-energy beams like protons or X-rays so as to kill brain tumor cells. Radiation therapy usually comes from a machine outside the body (external beam radiation), or in some very rare cases, radiation is also placed inside the body of the patient & close to the brain tumor, & which is known as brachytherapy. External beam radiation is designed to focus only on the area of the brain where tumor is located, or otherwise it can also be applied to the entire brain & which is termed as whole-brain radiation. Whole-brain radiation is most often typically applied to treat cancer which has spread to brain from some other part of the body. Side effects of radiation therapy depend upon the dose & type of radiation patients receive. However, common side effects during or soon after radiation therapy for brain tumors include headaches, fatigue & scalp irritation.
- Stereotactic Radiosurgery – This is not a form of surgery in the traditional sense, instead stereotactic radiosurgery utilizes multiple beams of radiation so as to deliver a highly focused form of radiation treatment in order to kill brain tumor cells within a very small area. However, in this procedure, each beam of radiation is not particularly powerful, but at the brain tumor point where all these beams meet receives an extremely large & powerful dose of radiation which inevitably is highly capable of destroying tumor cells. Moreover, there are different types of technologies which are used in radiosurgery for delivery of radiation to treat brain tumors, including Linear accelerator (LINAC) or Gamma Knife. Nevertheless, radiosurgery is typically performed as a single treatment & in most cases patients are allowed to go back home the same day.
- Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy utilizes drugs for killing brain tumor cells. Chemotherapy drugs can either be taken orally in form of pills or injected intravenously. Chemotherapy drug which is most often utilized in treatment of brain tumors is temozolomide (Temodar) & which comes in form of a pill. Several other chemotherapy drugs are also available for treatment of brain tumors & may also be used depending upon the type of brain tumor cancer. Side effects of chemotherapy however depend upon the dose & type of drugs patients receive. However, common side effects include nausea, vomiting & loss of hair.
- Targeted Drug Therapy – Targeted drug therapy treatments generally focus on specific abnormalities which are present within the brain tumor cancer cells. Targeted drug treatments are designed to kill these cancerous cells by blocking these abnormalities. One such targeted drug therapy which is utilized to treat a type of brain cancer known as glioblastoma is bevacizumab (Avastin). Given intravenously, this drug stops formation of new blood vessels & kills tumor cells by cutting off blood supply to the brain tumor. Another targeted drug everolimus (Afinitor) is utilized to treat benign brain tumors which occur among people with a genetic disorder known as tuberous sclerosis. Everolimus works by blocking an enzyme in body which plays a key role in growth of cancerous cells.
Rehabilitation Following Treatment for Brain Tumors
Since brain tumors often develop in parts of the brain which control thinking, vision, speech & motor skills, rehabilitation can become an important part of recovery. For this purpose doctors may refer brain tumor patients to services which can help, like the following.
- Physical Therapy – This will help brain tumor patients regain muscle strength or lost motor skills.
- Occupational Therapy – This therapy is designed to help brain tumor patients get back to work & normal daily activities after treatment of brain tumor or other illnesses.
- Speech Therapy – These sessions with speech pathologists can help brain tumor patients overcome a variety of difficulties in speech if they are having.
- Tutoring School-Age Children – This therapy is designed to help kids cope with changes in their thinking & memory following brain tumors.
Alternative Medicine for Brain Tumors
There is little research which has been done on alternative & complementary brain tumor treatments. As of now, no alternative treatments have been established to cure brain tumors. Nevertheless, complementary treatments are found to help patients cope with signs & symptoms of brain tumors & its treatments. Patients should therefore talk to their doctors about availability of options & whether they can try them in the given circumstances. Some complementary treatments which can helpful in coping with brain tumor conditions include the following.
- Music Therapy
- Relaxation Exercises
Brain Tumor Treatment Outcomes
It is estimated that about 13,000 people die of brain tumors every year. Recent advances in radiation & surgical treatments have significantly extended average survival rates & can also effectively reduce size & progression of malignant gliomas. However, survival rates for people with brain tumors depend upon several different variables like the ones listed below.
- Type of brain tumors like ependymoma, oligodendroglioma or astrocytoma
- Size & location of brain tumor will determine whether or not the tumor can be surgically removed
- Grade of the brain tumor
- Age of the patient
- Spread of the brain tumor
- Patient’s ability to function
Grading of Malignant Primary Brain Tumors
Malignant primary brain tumors are medically classified according to the grade of the tumor. Grade I is the least cancerous of all, while grade III & Grade IV are the most dangerous. Grading of brain tumors help predict growth rate & tendency to spread. Moreover, grading of brain tumor is also based upon the appearance of tumor cells when they are seen under a microscope.
- Lower Grade I & II Brain Tumor Cells – These lower grade tumor cells are well defined & almost normally shaped. Moreover, some primary lower-grade brain tumors are also curable through surgery alone, while some are curable through a combination of surgery & radiotherapy. Lower-grade brain tumors however have the most favorable survival rates in contrast to high-grades which have the least. But there are exceptions & this is not always the case as some low-grade II gliomas are at extremely high risk for progression.
- Higher Grade III & IV Brain Tumor Cells – These tumor cells are abnormally shaped & tend to be more diffuse, indicating their more aggressive behavior. High-grade brain tumors generally require surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy & possibly other investigational treatments.
- Mixed Grade Brain Tumors – In brain tumors which contain mixture of differently graded cells, the tumor is graded by using the highest graded cells within the mixture, even if there were very few of them.
Brain Tumor Treatment Survival Rates
Survival rates for brain tumors widely vary depending upon the type of tumor & many other factors, including age. These survival rates also tend to be higher for younger patients & are found to decrease with rise in age. 5-year survival rates for brain tumor patients range from 66 percent for children aged between 0 – 19 years of age & 5 percent for adults aged 75 years & older. However, patients with certain types of tumors have relatively good rates of survival. 5-year survival rates of brain tumor patients with oligodendroglioma & ependymoma respectively are 81 percent & 85 percent for patients aged between 20 – 44 years & 45 percent & 69 percent for patients aged between 55 – 64 years of age. Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM) patients have the worst prognosis showing 5-year survival rates of only 13 percent for people between 20 – 44 years of age & just 1 percent for brain tumor patients aged between 55 – 64 years of age.
Specific Effects of Brain Tumors on Function
Specific effects of tumors in brain can cause seizures, mental changes & changes in mood, personality & emotional changes. Brain tumors may also impair usage of muscle in certain areas of the body including hearing, speech, vision & various other neurological complications. These effects can often be devastating for the patient & the caregivers as well. However, numerous types of treatments are available to brain tumor patients which can effectively help alleviate these kinds of problems. Patients & family members must therefore discuss these options with the doctors.
Effects of Brain Tumors in Children
Advancements in tumor treatments have dramatically increased rates of survival among children with brain tumors. Almost 75 percent of children are found to survive at least for 5 years after being diagnosed with brain tumors. However, it is unfortunate that several childhood brain tumor survivors are at risk for long-term neurological complications. Children younger than age 7 years, & particularly those who are younger than age 3 years, appear to be having greater risk for cognitive problems. These problems can often result from brain tumors & from treatments including chemotherapy & cranial radiation therapy which can penetrate the blood-brain barrier. Some of these long-term cognitive problems include difficulties with concentration & attention, mental processing of information, memory, visual-perception skills & problems involving initiative, insight, planning & organizational competencies. Parents of these children therefore need to make sure that they receive appropriate supportive services & proper educational accommodation at school.
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Affordable Brain Tumor Treatments & Surgery with Travcure
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