In support of Brain Tumour Awareness Month, our Clinical Negligence and Personal Injury team have answered the most common questions surrounding brain tumours.
- What is a brain tumour?
- Who is most likely to get a brain tumour?
- What are the symptoms of a brain tumour?
- What is the treatment for a brain tumour?
A brain tumour is a growth of cells in the brain that multiplies in an abnormal and uncontrollable way. Brain tumours are graded according to how likely they are to grow back after treatment. There are two main types of brain tumour:
- Non-cancerous (benign) brain tumours: these are low grade (one or two) which means they grow slowly and are less likely to return after treatment
- Cancerous (malignant) brain tumours: these are high grade (three or four) and either start in the brain (primary tumours) or spread into the brain from elsewhere (secondary tumours). These are more likely to grow back after treatment.
According to Cancer Research UK, there are over 130 different types of brain tumour, but the most common is a glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), which starts in glial cells – neurological cells that support functions to the nervous system.
Cancer Research UK estimates that in the UK, there are 12,288 new brain tumour cases each year with around 5,380 deaths in that same period. Regrettably, only 12% of people diagnosed with a brain tumour will live longer than five years from diagnosis.
Whilst around 25% of people diagnosed with a brain tumour are age 75 or older, tumours affecting the brain and spinal cord are the second most common type of children’s cancer in the UK.
Symptoms of a brain tumour vary greatly depending on the size of the tumour and the particular part of the brain in which it is located.
According to Cancer Research UK, common symptoms include:
- Headaches (often with other symptoms such as being sick, headaches that you didn’t have before and that wake you up at night and eye problems such as blind spots)
- Seizures –(occur in up to 80% of those with a brain tumour)
- Persistently feeling or being sick
- Problems with your eyes such as blurred vision, floating shapes and tunnel vision
- Personality and behaviour changes
Symptoms based on the location of the tumour include:
Frontal lobe tumours: the frontal lobe controls movement, and therefore a tumour located in this area may cause difficulty walking, problems with sight and speech, weakness on one side of the body and a loss of smell.
Temporal lobe tumours: the temporal lobe is where you store memories and process sound. Symptoms of a tumour in this area of the brain may cause difficulty with hearing and speaking, hearing voices in your head and short-term memory loss.
Parietal lobe tumours: a parietal lobe tumour may cause difficulty speaking and understanding, problems with reading or writing, and a loss of feeling in one part of your body, as this part of your brain allows you to recognise objects and stores such knowledge.
Cerebellum tumours: this area of our brain controls our balance and posture. A tumour located in this area may cause problems with coordination and balance, dizziness and sickness.
Brain Stem tumours: the brain stem is the posterior part of the brain that connects the cerebrum with the spinal cord and controls vital body functions such as breathing. A tumour in this area is likely to cause difficulty swallowing or speaking, unsteadiness and difficulty walking and double vision.
Spinal cord tumours: a tumour in the spinal cord may cause pain and numbness or weakness in different parts of the body as well as losing function of the bladder and bowel.
Raising awareness for brain tumours includes sharing information about symptoms. As such, symptoms such as the ones listed above will likely require medical intervention.
Treatment for brain tumours varies incredibly given the various types of tumours that can occur and the vast areas of the brain it can be located in. According to the NHS, Oncologists may consider the following types of treatment:
- Medication to help with symptoms
Of course, it is not always possible to perform surgery if the tumour is located in a particularly delicate part of the brain that controls vital body functions or if the surgery is too risky to life. The advancement of technology over recent decades however does allow much more intricate and risky surgeries to be undertaken, successfully.
As with many cancers, the sooner a brain tumour is diagnosed the better, so that active treatment can begin to prevent or lessen the growth of the tumour. Given the vast array of brain tumours that can occur and the vast array of symptoms, brain tumours can go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for some time. Such delay in diagnosis or mismanagement of the illness can have devastating effects.