What You Need to Know About Brain Tumors
The life-changing event took place twenty years ago, but I remember it as though it happened just yesterday. Ever since my diagnosis with brain tumors, life has had curved balls and high peaks.
Managing these highs and lows would have been much easier from the start had I known what caused these unwanted growths. Being more aware of the symptoms and a few myths surrounding them would have helped greatly.
I trekked tough roads to recovery and made both pleasant and unpleasant discoveries. Though I am not a medical professional, I share an experience that I hope will benefit others who have to endure this trying and exhausting experience.
Five causes of brain tumors
There are fewer instances of brain tumors than other forms of cancer. In the United Kingdom, doctors diagnose an estimated 9400 people with brain tumors annually. Around fifty percent of these are malignant.
The causes are not yet firmly pinpointed. Some are more certain than others.
All brain tumors may occur at any stage of a person’s life. Different types of brain tumors grow depending on a person's age.
This is a condition seen in younger people of late. About 400 children aged fifteen and below have received a diagnosis of a brain tumor. Their rise is significant in teens, with about 300 of them being diagnosed each year.
2. Exposure to radiation
Some tumors, such as meningiomas or gliomas, develop in patients who undergo radiation therapy or CT scans to the head.
Knowing this, physicians keep radiation levels as low as possible.
On occasion, a brain tumor reappears if a patient had earlier instances of cancer. Those with leukemia or Hodgkin lymphoma are more susceptible.
4. Medicines and Therapy
Female patients who undergo hormone replacement therapy after menopause are more likely to develop meningiomas than those who do not go through this treatment.
Researchers are trying to certify these findings.
5. Body size
Those who are overweight and have a higher body mass index have a higher propensity for brain tumors, especially meningiomas.
Types of brain tumors
A brain tumor is sorted into one of four categories, depending on how fast it grows. Benign tumors grow slowly when compared to malignant ones.
The cells of a brain tumor are usually examined for their normalcy. The more normal they look, the less likely they are to grow. Malignant tumors are likely to return after surgery. Occasionally, malignant progression occurs. Though this is uncommon, benign tumors sometimes transform to become malignant.
Around forty percent of tumors are slow-growing gliomas. There are three types, namely:
Astrocytomas are the most common kind of glioma, with about 34 percent of all gliomas falling into this category. They develop from astrocyte cells, usually needed to support nerve cells. These are either benign or malignant.
3 out of every 100 tumors are oligodendrogliomas, which develop from oligodendrocytes.
Oligodendrocytes create a fatty tissue called myelin, needed to help nerve impulses travel more quickly. They are found mostly in the cerebrum, temporal or frontal lobes of the brain. Again, they are benign or malignant, and are often diagnosed in adults.
About two percent of brain tumors are ependymomas. They stem from ependymal cells that form from the fluid filled areas of the brain. These renegade tumors affect children or young adults and often occur in the spinal cord, a dangerous area to treat.
Common in older people and women, these tumors start in tissues covering the brain. Though mostly benign, some behave atypically and grow quite aggressively. These may return after they have been removed.
Tumors that originate from blood vessel are known as haemangioblastomas. These are usually benign and do not spread. However, it is difficult to remove them from the brain stem.
The tumors usually start in the nerve that runs from the ears to the brain. Operating on an acoustic neuroma may disrupt hearing and balance. They are benign and are usually there for a long time before they are diagnosed.
Tumors that originate from the pituitary gland are often found in older adults. Mine, a pituitary schwannoma, fits this category, though it occurred when I was much younger. It is usually found on the underside of the brain, in a hollow of the skull. They affect or passage of hormones to other parts of the body, causing complications to growth or other odd symptoms.
Pineal tumors spread from the pineal gland in the middle of the brain. These are rare, with only two percent of tumors being diagnosed as originating from the pineal area.
Haemangiopericytomas start from cells known as pericytes in tiny blood vessels called capillaries. These tend to be malignant and spread to other parts of the body.
Symptoms of brain tumors
Symptoms of brain tumors
Brain tumor symptoms are unlikely to manifest themselves obviously. But watch for their recurrence. Doctors will usually try to rule out other symptoms first.
Headaches are a common symptom of brain tumors. Nearly half of those who suffer from these tumors had headaches before their diagnosis. Headaches are usually accompanied by other brain tumor symptoms.
Some patients may experience bouts of vomiting the way I did, especially in the morning. Like headaches, vomiting is an ambiguous symptom that many factors may trigger off
Personality or mood changes
A person with brain tumors may start laughing at things that are not at all humorous. Alternatively, his temper tantrums become more frequent.
About a third of people experience seizures as a result of a brain tumor. Seizures cause a person to tremble with varying intensities.
I remember not being able to hold a spoon during dinner, which prompted me to visit a doctor. A person’s motor functions and cognitive processes may decline due to a brain tumor.
If a person has difficulty performing basic mathematical or linguistic functions, he should recall instances of other symptoms of brain tumors. Taken together, it is possible that he is suffering from one.
Numbness and other physical changes
A person with a brain tumor may feel numbness on one side of the body as I did. Walking home was a challenge. I fell on the side of the road on occasion.
I still suffer from paralysis on the right side of my face, although this is hard to tell. It requires me to exercise care when eating.
Vision, hearing and speech problems
Some brain tumors may cause vision or hearing problems. Some vision problems may include blurring or flashing lights.
Hearing loss is often on one side with brain tumors. Occasionally, speech may also be slurred.
Which of these myths are you familiar with?
Which of these myths are you familiar with?
Myths about Brain Tumors
1. Brain tumor patients show the same symptoms.
Depending on exactly where the tumor is in the brain, every person will show different symptoms of brain tumors.
2. Benign tumors are not cancerous and are not challenging.
This is far from the truth. These are as life-threatening as malignant ones, though they seldom return after excision.
My tumors, though benign, were in an inaccessible area of the brain. This made them difficult to remove completely and I still have a few renegade cells that the surgeon has, hopefully, arrested.
3. Life normalizes for a patient after his treatment.
This is often untrue. Patients have to restructure their lives after incidents of brain tumors. Patients have to make adjustments to their lifestyles.
4. Brain tumors are a rare form of cancer.
Brain tumors are the leading cause of cancer in young children and young adults aged twenty to thirty-nine.
Brain tumor diagnosis and treatment
Chemotherapy is a treatment regimen for malignant tumors. However, depending on the circumstances, doctors recommend it for those with benign cancers.
Gamma Knife Treatment
I had to undergo a course of this when my tumor recurred in 1996. This treatment involves the removal of brain tumors via gamma radiation.
The patient wears a helmet-like mechanism that helps direct the gamma rays to the part of the brain where the tumor is growing.
Those with brain tumors experience a myriad of side-effects such as paralysis, a loss of motor skills or, in my case, executive functioning. This refers to a person’s ability to organize and remember information.
As such, strategies exist for a patient to manage a brain tumor’s after effects.
As far as possible, patients should join a brain tumor support group near their area. Being surrounded by those who empathize with the difficulties of coping with a brain tumor is important. Few are able to fully appreciate the obstacles unless they have surmounted them.
Restructure your life
Not everyone has to do this, but if necessary, adopt a different lifestyle. With my poorer executive functioning, I had to take on a profession free from routine. With freelance writing, I do not need to keep to schedules rigidly.
Use organizers and planners
I use these judiciously. Stickies are essential for those whose organizational skills have been affected. This seems rather earnest, but it’s important in such cases to write notes to yourself.
I have different to-do lists and timers to keep myself on track.
Look to the stars
Above all, maintain a positive attitude. There is nothing you cannot do after undergoing brain tumor surgery.
Brain tumors are life-changing, but they do not have to be debilitating. Those who do have them, however, need patience and empathy.
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