Brain Tumors

Brain Tumors A primary brain tumor is a group (mass) of abnormal cells that start in the brain. This article focuses on primary brain tumors in adults.

  • A primary brain tumor is a group (mass) of abnormal cells that start in the brain. This article focuses on primary brain tumors in adults.
  • A primary brain tumor is a group (mass) of abnormal cells that start in the brain. This article focuses on primary brain tumors in children.

 

Causes

Primary brain tumors include any tumor that starts in the brain. Primary brain tumors can arise from the brain cells, the membranes around the brain (meninges), nerves, or glands. Tumors can directly destroy brain cells. They can also damage cells by producing inflammation, placing pressure on other parts of the brain, and increasing pressure within the skull. The cause of primary brain tumors is unknown.

 

There are many possible risk factors that could play a role.

  • Radiation therapy to the brain, used to treat brain cancers, increases the risk for brain tumors up to 20 or 30 years afterwards.
  • Exposure to radiation at work or to power lines, as well as head injuries, smoking, and hormone replacement therapy have NOT yet been shown to be factors.
  • The risk of using cell phones is hotly debated. However, most recent studies have found that cell phones, cordless phones, and wireless devices are safe and do not increase the risk.
  • Some inherited conditions increase the risk of brain tumors, including neurofibromatosis, Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, and Turcot syndrome.

 

SPECIFIC TUMOR TYPES

Brain tumors are classified depending on the exact site of the tumor, the type of tissue involved, whether they are noncancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant), and other factors. Sometimes, tumors that start out being less invasive can become more invasive. Tumors may occur at any age, but many types of tumors are most common in a certain age group. In adults, gliomas and meningiomas are most common. Gliomas come from glial cells such as astrocytes, oligodendrocytes, and ependymal cells. The gliomas are divided into three types:

Meningiomas are another type of brain tumor. These tumors:

  • Occur most commonly between the ages of 40 - 70
  • Are much more common in women
  • Are usually (90% of the time) benign, but still may cause devastating complications and death due to their size or location. Some are cancerous and aggressive.

 

Other primary brain tumors in adults are rare. These include:

  • Ependymomas
  • Craniopharyngiomas
  • Pituitary tumors
  • Primary lymphoma of the brain
  • Pineal gland tumors
  • Primary germ cell tumors of the brain

 

TREATMENT:

SURGERY

  • Pediatric neurosurgeons are having more success than ever in helping to cure children with brain tumors, partly because of new technologies in the operating room and partly because it has been learned that an aggressive surgical approach at diagnosis can significantly increase the chance for cure.
  • Neurosurgeons may use stereotactic devices, which help target tumors by providing 3D images of the brain during surgery. Staged surgeries are also being used more frequently. This means that instead of trying to remove a large tumor all at once, surgeons will take out only part of the tumor at diagnosis. The patient will then get chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy to shrink the tumor and then return to the operating room a second or even a third time to try to remove the rest of the tumor.
  • After surgery, some patients may not require any more treatment beyond observation (periodic checkups and imaging scans to watch for problems). Many, however, will require radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of both.