As you learn more about the different types of brain tumors, names and terminology can become confusing and even start to run together. Whether you are learning more for yourself or a loved one in the Tristate area, the following list outlines some of the most common brain tumors in adults, along with useful information about each. This can be a good jumping-off point as you begin to learn more about a particular condition, wherever you are along your treatment path.
The Different Types of Brain Tumors
The types of brain tumors that develop in adults tend to be different than those seen in children. Though the list below is not exhaustive, it includes some of the most common brain tumors that occur in adult patients. While they do share some characteristics, each different type of brain tumor is unique and should be managed by a brain tumor expert in the Tristate area.
1. Metastatic Brain Tumors
Metastatic brain tumors are also called secondary brain tumors. This is because they are made up of cells from a cancer site somewhere else in the body, such as the lung or breast. Metastatic brain tumors are actually more common than primary brain tumors (those that develop directly from brain cells).
A metastatic brain tumor may be discovered when imaging the brain, either because of symptoms or incidentally while imaging for another purpose. If you were unaware of your primary cancer, your doctor may order a biopsy to find out what type of cells make up your metastatic brain tumor.
Treatment of a metastatic brain tumor will depend on the origin of cells, size and location of the tumor and personal health factors. Options include surgery followed by radiation therapy or radiation therapy alone. Gamma Knife Radiosurgery can be an excellent treatment option for NJ patients. Some patients may also be prescribed medications to help shrink the tumor or ease symptoms.
An astrocytoma is a type of brain tumor that develops from a class of brain cells, astrocytes, that provide support to the brain. Astrocytes are a specific type of glial cell in the brain, and an astrocytoma is a specific type of glioma. Gliomas are classified by grade, based on how aggressive they are. Typically, two broad categories exist including low-grade gliomas and high-grade gliomas.
As with many brain tumors, a glioma may be diagnosed based on pathology. The tumor acquired during surgery will be analyzed to to determine the type of tumor, the grade of tumor and any special genetic characteristics of the tumor.
Your treatment will depend on the grade of your glioma and other factors. Surgery is an option available in NJ and will typically be followed with radiation therapy.
3. Acoustic Neuroma/Vestibular Schwannoma
An acoustic neuroma (also called vestibular schwannoma) is a brain tumor that develops from the vestibulocochlear nerve. This is the cranial nerve responsible for hearing and balance, which coincides with the symptoms many patients experience. In fact, these symptoms often help with the diagnosis process, along with imaging the tumor.
If your acoustic neuroma is small and asymptomatic, your doctor may recommend careful monitoring for changes instead of immediate treatment. Other patients may require surgery to remove all or part of the tumor. Gamma Knife Radiosurgery is also an option available in the Tristate area, either as a primary or adjunctive treatment.
A meningioma is a tumor that arises from the tissue that covers the brain, the meninges. Though not technically a brain tumor, meningiomas develop in intimate contact with the brain and can have effects similar to true brain tumors. These tumors are also classified based on grade, or aggressiveness. Typically meningiomas are benign and do not spread throughout the body.
As with other brain tumors, your doctor will use imaging to develop a diagnosis. Surgery may be necessary to determine the grade of your tumor or to confirm it is a meningioma. As with gliomas, treatment will depend on the grade of your meningioma. A more aggressive tumor will require more intervention. However, some meningiomas may not require any treatment at all.
If your doctor does recommend treatment, options include surgery plus radiation therapy or radiation alone. Again, Gamma Knife Radiosurgery is available in NJ for patients requiring primary or follow-up treatment, and it can be a potential treatment option for patients who are not good surgical candidates.
5. Pituitary Adenoma
The pituitary gland is about the size of a pea and sits in the middle of the brain, around an area at the back of your nose. The gland is responsible for secreting many hormones involved in the body’s functioning, including growth, thyroid function and cortisol regulation. A pituitary adenoma is a benign brain tumor that develops from the pituitary gland.
There are many types of cells in the pituitary gland. The symptoms you experience will depend on the characteristics of your tumor. These symptoms will often lead your doctor to a diagnosis, particularly when coupled with diagnostic imaging.
Treatment options for patients in Northern NJ include surgery, Gamma Knife Radiosurgery and the use of medications to help manage symptoms. Some tumors are small and asymptomatic, requiring only monitoring without treatment.
6. Clival Tumors (Chordoma & Chondrosarcoma)
Clival tumors develop near the clivus, a bony area near the base of the skull. These rare tumors include chordoma and chondrosarcoma, which are developmentally different but can be similar in presentation. Though these tumors can occur elsewhere in the body, they are specifically called clival tumors when they form within this area.
As a baby develops in utero, many changes take place. Early during formation, a structure called the notochord is present. Remnants of the notochord will ultimately become the vertebral discs. However, notochord cells can become trapped within the bones of the skull and spine during development, leading to a chordoma forming within the bone.
In contrast, chondrosarcomas are tumors that form from the cells that create cartilage. Other potential sites outside of the clivus include the pelvis and hips. Chondrosarcoma is even rarer than chondroma. Both tumors can be either benign or malignant.
Because clival tumors can occur at the base of the skull, symptoms are often related to the cranial nerves that pass through the area. These include difficulties with vision or hearing, muscular weakness, hormonal issues and headaches.
Your doctor will use a combination of your symptoms, as well as CT and/or MRI imaging tests to diagnose your clival tumor. Treatment typically involves removal of as much of the tumor as possible, followed by radiation treatment to eliminate any remaining tumor cells. Gamma Knife Radiosurgery can be an excellent follow-up treatment for patients in northern NJ.
7. Colloid Cyst
Colloid cysts occur within the third ventricle of the brain, one of the chambers lined with cells that produce cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). A cyst isn’t a true tumor, but an epithelium-lined sac filled with fluid. However, they are often considered to be very similar to a benign brain tumor. Colloid cysts are always benign and never have the potential to become malignant. This means they do not invade local tissues or spread throughout the body.
Colloid cysts are developmental in origin and form before birth. They can continue to grow over time and can eventually become large enough to block the flow of CSF within the brain. This can create a dangerous situation, leading to unconsciousness or even death. However, some cysts are small enough they only require monitoring for changes.
If your doctor does recommend treatment, most colloid cysts can be removed using a minimally invasive approach. The surgeon creates a small incision and uses specialized visualization and instruments to remove the cyst and its contents, preventing further CSF buildup. Your doctor will consider the size of your colloid cyst, your age and overall medical condition when recommending treatment.
Though very rare, an ethesioneuroblastoma can be a very serious tumor that develops from the nerves within the nose. These tumors are most commonly discovered in teenagers and adults in their 60s, and early diagnosis is important to prevent severe complications that can arise. Early symptoms include nasal obstruction in one side of the nose, impaired sense of smell and frequent, unexplained nosebleeds (epistaxis). Later-stage tumors can cause headaches, eye pain and impaired vision.
If your doctor suspects esthesioneuroblastoma, diagnostic imaging and biopsy will be key to making a diagnosis. Treatment is typically surgical removal, followed by radiation therapy (such as Gamma Knife Radiosurgery) or chemotherapy to eliminate any remaining tumor cells. Because these tumors can become malignant and/or grow large enough to affect the eyes and brain, it is important to work with an expert in northern NJ who can diagnose and treat your condition.
An oligodendroglioma is a specific type of glioma made up of support cells called oligodendrocytes. They can occur anywhere throughout the brain, and the symptoms you experience can depend on your tumor’s location. However, the most common symptom is seizures, which differentiates these tumors from other forms of glioma.
Oligodendrogliomas typically grow very slowly and can be present for a very long time before symptoms appear. They are most commonly found in patients 50-60 years old and occur more frequently in men. Besides seizures, other symptoms can include headaches, changes in personality and memory deficits, particularly if the tumor is within the frontal lobe of the brain. Some patients may also experience difficulty forming or understanding language.
Small, slowly growing tumors may not require treatment right away. However, if you are experiencing symptoms, your doctor will likely recommend intervention. Surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible is typically the first step, followed by an adjunctive therapy like Gamma Knife Radiosurgery or chemotherapy.
10. Glioblastoma Multiforme
Glioblastoma multiforme is another name for a grade IV glioma. This means it is very aggressive, growing and spreading rapidly. These are the most common primary brain tumors in adults. Symptoms may arise or worsen very quickly and include severe headaches, nausea and vomiting, caused by increased pressure within the brain. Other symptoms can result from the tumor pressing on important structures and include paralysis or muscle weakness, sensory deficits and difficulty with memory.
Treatment depends on the size, location and cell types present within the tumor and typically needs to occur with some urgency due to the tumor’s aggressive nature. Glioblastoma multiforme typically invades nearby tissues, making complete surgical removal impossible. This is why surgery is usually followed by radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
Continue the Learning Process
As you can now appreciate, there are many different types of brain tumors and this list just covered some of the most common in adults. If you are awaiting a diagnosis, helping find information for a loved one or already have a procedure scheduled, self-education is a powerful way to develop peace of mind through this process. Continue to learn about the condition you are interested in. If you are diagnosed with a brain tumor, be sure to carry on the discussion with your personal doctor. He or she is there to guide you through this and help you feel comfortable with all aspects of your care.