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Brain cancer is a serious but rare type of cancer that can begin in the brain or spread to the brain from other parts of the body, like the breast or lungs. It’s also possible to develop brain tumors that aren't cancerous. While a brain tumor diagnosis of any kind can be frightening, there are many safe, effective treatment options that can relieve symptoms, restore your quality of life, and potentially cure the tumor altogether. As a result, more people are living longer, healthier lives with these tumors than ever before.
Knowing the signs and symptoms of a brain tumor can help you get the care you need earlier, which can help you avoid permanent symptoms and maintain the highest quality of life possible.
Everyone gets headaches, but changes in their frequency or intensity could be a sign of a #BrainTumor. Visit the #MedStarHealthBlog to learn about the warning signs and when to see a doctor: https://bit.ly/3J22F9x.Click to Tweet
What are the warning signs of a brain tumor?
A tumor’s type, location, and size can affect the severity and location of your symptoms. For example, it’s possible to have very subtle symptoms or others that are more obvious. The following symptoms are most commonly associated with brain tumors and should be further evaluated by a doctor:
- Headache: Headaches that change in intensity or frequency could indicate a tumor that’s putting pressure on the brain. If a headache worsens over several weeks, don’t ignore it.
- Seizure: Seizures can be caused by several medical conditions but could indicate a tumor. If you have a full-body seizure that affects your entire body or you have a seizure that only affects one part of the body, seek medical attention.
- Neurological symptoms: Brain tumors can sometimes mimic stroke symptoms, which can include changes to your vision, speech, cognition, or balance. If you experience weakness or numbness in your arms or legs, personality changes, or generally feel disoriented, it could be a sign that something is wrong.
- Nausea and vomiting: Many people attribute these symptoms to a gastrointestinal problem. However, tumors in the brain can also cause nausea as they grow and increase pressure within the skull.
When is a headache concerning?
Nearly everyone has had a headache at some point, and very rarely are those headaches a result of brain cancer. However, you should always see a doctor if headaches are interfering with your ability to participate in your daily activities or if they’re accompanied by other alarming symptoms, like neurological changes.
You should also pay close attention to changes in headache patterns and see a doctor if your headache worsens:
- When you lie down
- Wake up in the morning
- Progressively over time
Can I get screened for brain cancer?
Cancer screenings are commonly used to detect early stages of breast, lung, and other types of cancer in safe, easy ways. However, there are no brain cancer screening guidelines for the general population.
If you do have cancer that begins elsewhere in the body, it is possible for cancer to spread to the brain. As a result, we will conduct imaging to screen for brain tumors in patients with advanced stages of breast cancer, lung cancer, and others. A brain MRI can help determine if any secondary tumors spread to the brain so we can manage any related side effects as early as possible.
Are brain tumors preventable?
Aside from extremely rare genetic predispositions, there are no identifiable risk factors that would increase an individual’s likelihood of developing brain tumors. Therefore, there’s nothing you can do to eliminate the possibility of developing a tumor that starts in the brain.
However, staying on top of cancer screenings for the disease in other parts of the body can help you minimize your risk of developing brain metastases, or tumors that spread to the brain. For example, regular mammograms can help detect breast cancer early when it is easily treatable.
Similarly, screening colonoscopies allow for early colon cancer detection and may help you avoid the disease altogether. Other lifestyle habits, like quitting smoking, exercising regularly, and eating a well-balanced diet can help you stay healthy and lower your chances of developing certain cancers.
When should I go to a doctor?
Brain tumors can cause a variety of symptoms that vary from person-to-person. However, it’s always beneficial to get checked out by a doctor if you have experience any of the following:
- Worsening headache
- Weakness or numbness
- Slurred speech or difficulty speaking
- Nausea and vomiting
Many of these symptoms can be caused by another medical condition, but it’s always important to rule out cancer. You know your body best, so pay attention to any changes and talk to your doctor about anything unusual for you. Most of the time, these signs are caused by something else, but don’t downplay your symptoms. Trust your gut if something feels off, and let a doctor help you get to the root of it.
If you are diagnosed with a brain tumor, be encouraged that there are many successful treatment options involving advances in surgery, radiation, and medical oncology that allow patients with cancer to get healthy for longer. At MedStar Health, our brain cancer team involves experts in each of these fields who work together to design individualized treatment plans that consider your preferences, goals, and tumor characteristics.
Because we work collaboratively, we’ll help you understand all of your possible treatment options, including clinical trials that may offer therapies previously unavailable. Together, we’ll determine the right course of treatments that will provide you with the best possible outcome, including the potential for a cure.