Brain cancer is a malignant cell growth in the brain. The cancer can be primary (75%), meaning that it started in the brain, or secondary (25%), meaning that it spread from another part of the body to the brain. About 40% of brain cancers start from glial cells and are named gliomas. Gliomas include astrocytomas, glioblastomas, oligodendrogliomas, ependymomas, and medulloblastomas. The most common secondary cancers spread from cancers of the breast, lung, kidney, colon, and skin (melanoma).
Primary brain tumors can affect anyone but are more common in children younger than 15 and in middle-aged adults. Secondary brain tumors are more common in adults.
Brain cancer cannot be prevented. Most primary brain tumors, if found early, can be cured.
The cause of primary brain tumors is unknown.
Headaches and seizures are the most common symptoms. Headaches usually occur in early morning, sometimes waking people up, and worsen with coughing or sneezing. The growing tumor pressing up against the skull causes the headaches. Other symptoms depend on the location of the tumor, but can include behavior changes, confusion, and trouble with speech, memory, or concentration.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is usually used to find the cancer. Computed tomography (CT) can also be used. The only way to prove the diagnosis is to take a tissue sample from the tumor and study it under the microscope. Taking this sample can be done either by a biopsy or at surgery, if the whole tumor is to be removed.
Primary brain tumors are usually removed. Depending on the tumor type and location, surgery gives the best chance for a cure if the whole tumor can be removed. Surgery also allows diagnosis of the type of cancer and relieves pressure in the brain.
Radiation therapy, another treatment method, is performed by specialists (radiation oncologists) and is usually used for tumors that cannot be removed (or removed completely), or after surgery for any brain cancer.
Chemotherapy is not often used for primary brain tumors.
An antiseizure medicine is often used before and after surgery. For swelling in the brain, the health care provider may prescribe an anti-inflammatory steroid (dexamethasone).
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