Brain Tumor Facts
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A brain tumor is an abnormal mass of tissue in which cells grow and multiply uncontrollably, seemingly
unchecked by the mechanisms that control normal cells. Brain tumors can be primary or metastatic, and
either malignant or benign. A metastatic brain tumor is a cancer that has spread from elsewhere in the body
to the brain. Brain tumors are classified into two main groups: gliomas, composed of supporting cells that
invade the neural tissue surrounding them; and nonglial tumors which compress, rather than invade,
neighboring brain tissue as they grow. It is estimated that in 2000, more than 359,000 persons were living
with a diagnosis of a primary brain tumor in the United States. In 2005, it is estimated that nearly 12,800
deaths will be associated with malignant tumors of the brain and other parts of the central nervous system.
Fortunately, new and sophisticated techniques have led to advances in the treatment of brain tumors.
Tumors that were once inoperable in the brain stem or thalamus can now be accessed and removed,
sometimes completely, and often without impaired neurological function.
shrinking. Diagnostic tools include computed
tomography (CT or CAT scan) and magnetic
It is thought that brain tumors occur when certain
resonance imaging (MRI). MRI is also used during
genes on the chromosomes of a cell are damaged
surgery to guide tissue biopsies and tumor
so that they no longer function properly. In some
removal. Magnetic resonance spectroscopy
cases, an individual may be born with partial
(MRS) is used to examine the tumor's chemical
defects in one or more of these genes.
profile and see whether the tumor is responding to
Environmental factors may then lead to further
treatment. Positron emission tomography (PET
damage. In other patients, the environmental
scan) can help detect recurring brain tumors.
injury to the genes may be the only cause. It is not
known why some people in an "environment"
develop brain tumors while others do not. While
there has been research into the connection
Surgery is the main form of treatment for brain
between cell phone usage and brain tumors, the
tumors that lie within the membranes covering the
findings to date have been inconclusive.
brain or in parts of the brain that can be removed
without damaging critical neurological functions.
The goal is to remove the entire tumor, whenever
possible, as a tumor may recur if any tumor cells
are left behind. Radiation therapy and
Double or blurred vision
chemotherapy are generally used as secondary
treatment for tumors that cannot be cured through
Loss of appetite
Changes in mood and personality
Changes in ability to think and learn
Stereotactic radiosurgery is a treatment option
that delivers a high concentration of radiation
Speech difficulty of gradual onset
directly to the tumor in order to stop its growth,
while delivering only a minimal dose of radiation
Brain and nervous system tumors account for 21
to the surrounding tissue. Unlike conventional
percent of all childhood cancers. In early stages,
surgery, stereotactic radiosurgery does not
children may experience headaches, nausea,
require making an incision to remove the tumor. It
vomiting, blurred or double vision, dizziness, and
can be especially effective in patients with many
changes in coordination.
small metastatic brain tumors.
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Sophisticated imaging techniques can pinpoint the
tumor and determine whether it's growing or
© AANS February 2005