Over 9000 people a year are diagnosed with brain tumors in the UK. A brain tumour can be cancerous (malignant) or non-cancerous (benign). It is formed from cells that multiply in the brain in an irregular, uncontrollable way. Depending on the behaviour of the tumour it can be graded from 1 to 4, 1-2 are usually benign tumours that a slow growing whereas 3-4 are usually malignant and more likely to grow back.
Common symptoms of a brain tumour include:
- regular, severe headaches
- persistent nausea, vomiting and drowsiness
- mental or behavioural changes, such as memory loss or changes in personality
- progressive weakness or paralysis on one side of the body, vision problems, or speech problems
However, symptoms can develop very slowly and are not always visible to begin with. Brain tumors are most commonly seen in older adults but they can affect people of all ages.
A benign (non-cancerous) brain tumour is a group of cells that grows slowly in the brain. This type of tumour tends to stay in one place and not spread to the rest of the body. While they can still be serious and life threatening, they are often successfully treated.
The type of benign tumour depends on the brain cells it has grown from. Examples include:
- gliomas –tumours of the glial tissue, which binds nerve cells and fibres together
- meningiomas – tumours of the membranes that cover the brain
- acoustic neuromas – tumours in the acoustic nerve
- craniopharyngiomas – tumours near the base of the brain
- haemangioblastomas –tumours of the brain’s blood vessels
- pituitary adenomas – tumours of the pituitary gland
A malignant brain tumour is a fast-growing cancer that spreads to other areas of the brain and spine. These types of tumour can start in the brain or spread to the brain from elsewhere in the body, there is also the possibility they will grow back after treatment.
The majority of malignant brain tumours are gliomas and start in the glial tissue (the part of the brain that supports the nerve cells), they have spread there from other parts of the body. There are different types depending on the cells they developed from:
- an astrocytoma grows from cells thought to provide the brain’s framework
- an oligodendroglioma grows from the cells that produce the fatty covering of nerves
- an ependymoma grows from the cells that line the cavities in the brain
When it comes to treating a tumour there are different options, it is important to start treatment quickly. The most common treatment is surgery to remove all or as much of the tumour as feasible, this is then followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy to kill off any cancerous cells left in the brain and decrease the chances of the tumour regrowing.
Treatment is successful for the majority of benign tumours, with most making a full recovery, but regular checkups are advised as there is still a chance the tumour could return.
The success of treatment for malignant tumours is less effective and often depends on the location of the tumour, your age or your general wellbeing. Most malignant tumours return at some point after treatment.
If your tumour does return, the treatment aims to control the growth of the tumour and prolong your life as a cure is not often possible. Around 40% live at least a year and just under 20% live 5-10 years.
Living with a brain tumour is tough, it is perfectly normal to be worried and anxious over what may happen to you and your family, but it is important to seek information from the right people who can deal with any worries you may have.