After learning that you have a brain tumor, it is important to take steps to inform yourself about your condition. Self-education is a powerful way to develop peace of mind as you move through the process of diagnosis, treatment and recovery. This can help develop confidence in your choices and reduce the stress of the entire process.
The following information will give you more information about brain tumors in general. Though there are many types of brain tumors, it can be helpful to have a broad understanding of brain tumor symptoms, how brain tumors are diagnosed and the different treatment options available. This foundation will help you as you receive your personal diagnosis and begin to learn about your specific type of brain tumor.
Overview of Brain Tumors
There are many different types of brain tumors. Your brain tumor may have formed before you were born, or it may grow later in life. Some brain tumors are benign, which means they do not spread to other areas of the body. Others may be able to invade nearby tissues and/or metastasize to other sites. This is why it is important to work with an expert who can help properly diagnose your brain tumor and develop an appropriate treatment plan based on your individual condition.
Brain Tumor Symptoms
Your brain tumor symptoms will depend on the size and location, as well as the type of brain tumor you have. Some brain tumors, such as pituitary tumors, may cause specific symptoms as a result of the tumor itself. However, many patients will experience symptoms due to the brain tumor taking up space within the skull, pressing on adjacent structures and/or blocking the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). These symptoms can include:
- Fatigue and drowsiness
- Neurological deficits, including paralysis
- Difficulty with vision, hearing and speech
- Decreased muscle coordination, including trouble walking
- Personality changes, depression and other psychological issues
- Depressed cardiac and respiratory function
Diagnosing Brain Tumors
It is important to work with an expert in brain tumors, such as a neurologist or neurosurgeon, who can understand your symptoms and begin to form a diagnosis. Your doctor will use that information to order further diagnostic tests to confirm your diagnosis. This can include imaging, such as a CT scan or MRI, a spinal tap and a biopsy, as well as other tests. Once your doctor has reached a definitive diagnosis, he or she will work with you to develop an appropriate treatment plan.
Treating Brain Tumors
Your doctor will take many factors into consideration when developing your treatment plan. These include the type of brain tumor you are diagnosed with, along with its size and location. He or she will also consider your individual health factors, such as age and any complicating health conditions, which may affect treatment recommendations. While your personal doctor will be the best person to discuss treating your specific brain tumor, it can be helpful to understand the basic brain tumor treatment options available.
Some patients benefit from the removal of all or part of their brain tumor. Your doctor may recommend surgical removal of your brain tumor if it is especially large and/or in an easily accessible area. If you have an aggressive brain tumor and time is of the essence, surgical removal may be necessary even if the tumor is difficult to reach. Surgery can be used alone, or it may be combined with a follow-up form of therapy (such as radiation therapy) to ensure the entire tumor is eradicated.
Your doctor may recommend radiation therapy to shrink your brain tumor, again alone or in conjunction with another form of treatment. Radiation therapy may be an option for patients who cannot undergo surgery or who have difficult-to-reach tumors. Traditional whole-brain radiation therapy treats the entire brain with multiple low doses of radiation to treat your brain tumor. An advanced form of radiation therapy, Gamma Knife Radiosurgery, can be used to target just the brain tumor, sparing healthy surrounding tissue.
Chemotherapy is the use of medications to treat your tumor. There are a few types of brain tumors that respond to chemotherapy, which is why it is only used in extreme cases. Medication can also be used to manage symptoms, rather than treating the tumor directly. This may be an alternative to surgery or to help provide some relief until your ultimate treatment.
If your brain tumor is small, not causing symptoms and is not changing, your doctor may recommend careful monitoring before moving forward with treatment. Sometimes brain tumors are discovered while undergoing testing for other reasons and would have never been discovered otherwise. If your doctor does recommend monitoring, it is important you attend all scheduled follow-up visits so any changes may be detected as soon as possible.
Continue Educating Yourself
At this point, you know a little more about brain tumor symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options available. As you learn more about your specific diagnosis, you will be able to carry on informed conversations with your doctor about treatment recommendations and what to expect as you move forward. This can give you a sense of confidence and control during this time, reducing the stress on your mind and body when it matters most.