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This year alone 22,910 brain and spinal cord tumors will be diagnosed and if benign tumors were added to this total it would be much higher. Within in this number there are more males diagnosed at 12,630 than females who are at 10,280 and so more males will die form this disease than females . It averages out to about 1 in every 150 men will be diagnosed and around 7,720 of those men will die and for females it is 1 in 185 and out of those 5,980 will die form these tumors. Thankfully though one has only a 1% chance in their lifetime to develop a malignant brain tumor and then survival depends mainly on the type of tumor, where it’s located, the size ,the person’s age at the time of diagnosis, their overall general health, and the grade of the tumor. At this time it is not known what causes brain tumors, but there are some factors that are thought to raise the risk for forming one.
One risk factor is radiation exposure which generally comes from some type of radiation therapy often accompanied by a previous cancer such as leukemia where radiation was used to target the brain. Tumors of this kind usually occur 10-15 years after the radiation treatments were administered, but are rare. Family history can play a role in one’s risk for a brain tumor as well, but just like with radiation, it is rare that more than one family member will have a brain or spinal cord tumor. In families where this does occur it usually occurs in youth and is related to one of the following disorders first Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) caused by changes in the NFI gene resulting in tumors in the nervous system and a higher risk of developing schwannomas, meningiomas, and some types of gliomas. Second Neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2) which is like NF1 .but differs in that it is less common and associated with acoustic neuromas and spinal cord ependymomas. Third is Tuberous sclerosis which occurs as people with this have giant astrocytomas that develop below the epidermal cells of the ventricles. These are just a few examples and there are many more that apply here in this category including people with impaired immune systems.
Unfortunately at this time, there are not any blood tests are pre-screening tests to detect brain tumors so they are usually diagnosed only after symptoms arise. Symptoms are different depending on where the tumor is located in the brain such as whether it’s in the cerebrum, basal ganglia, cerebellum, cranial nerves, or spinal cord. Generally, any tumor of the brain can cause pressure from the size of the tumor or swelling due to blockage of cerebrospinal fluid resulting in headaches, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, balance problems, personality changes, seizures, and drowsiness. Headaches are the most common symptom followed by seizures which about out of every 10 people with seizures 1 will be diagnosed with a brain tumor.
Once a tumor is suspected there are several tests that a neurologist can have done to confirm the diagnosis. Imaging tests such as MRI scans, CT scans, or PET scans all take pictures of the brain usually with a contrast dye to see if a tumor is present and where its exact location is. Biopsies are usually done in conjunction with MRI or CT scans for a definite diagnosis. There are two kinds of biopsies done for brain tumors the first being a stereotactic biopsy where a surgeon makes a burr hole in the brain and sticks a needle in it to retrieve a tissue sample this is usually done in the deep area of the brain where its too delicate for surgery and the other is a craniotomy where the surgeon tries to remove some or all of the tumor and gets a biopsy during this time. Spinal taps are also done to confirm or rule out a brain tumor or spinal tumor as cancer cells can be present in the cerebrospinal fluid.
Finally, once a brain tumor is confirmed all these tests and exams are evaluated to determine which stage the cancer is at to decide treatment, and to determine the patient’s prognosis. The four grades of brain tumors are Grade I which is benign where the cells are almost normal and growing slowly, Grade II which is malignant and where cells are less normal looking, Grade III which is malignant with cells that are very actively growing and referred to as anaplastic, and finally Grade IV which is malignant with very abnormal cells growing rapidly. The most commonly diagnosed brain tumors are Astrocytoma which forms in astrocyte cells, Meningioma which is found in the meninges, and oligodendroglioma which is found in fatty substances that cover and protect the nerves. Other types are Schwannoma, Ependymoma, Ependymoblatoma, Germ cell tumor, Medulloblastoma, Neuroblastoma, and Pineoblastoma.
Treatment can involve surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or usually some combination of the three. There are also complementary and alternative treatments that can include vitamins, herbs, special diets, acupuncture, massage and many as the list is long depending on where you go or who you seek help from. It is important when seeking these treatments to be aware of the harms they can cause and not to replace medical treatments with complementary or alternative therapies, but if using them do so in conjunction with medical advice.
Mayo Clinic article http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/brain-tumor/DS00281
American Cancer Society
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National Cancer Institute- What You Need To Know About Brain Tumors: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/brain/page2