What is a brain tumour?
Our bodies are made up of lots of different types of cells. These are the building blocks of our body that form tissues and organs. We are growing new cells all of the time, this is how our bodies grow, heal and repair. A tumour develops when these cells do not grow as they should and become abnormal. If abnormal cells continue to replicate and grow they then form a tumour. In some cases the tumour may arise from cells in the brain or from abnormal cells that travel from other sites in the body and then form a tumour once in the brain.
Are all brain tumours the same?
Brain tumours can be classified in several ways. Tumours can be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer).
Benign tumours are a primary tumour, meaning they have developed in the brain from brain cells. They often very slow growing and unlikely to spread but can cause problems as they grow as they can press on surrounding areas of the brain. In some rare cases benign tumours can become malignant.
Malignant tumours are often more aggressive and can grow and spread faster than benign tumours. Malignant tumours can be a primary cancer, meaning that it has developed in the brain from brain cells, or secondary, meaning that cancer cells from other parts of the body have formed a tumour in the brain.
Brain cancer can also be described by the type of cell they have grown from, their location, how far they have progressed (stage) or how fast they grow (grade).
What symptoms can a brain tumour cause?
Brain tumours can change the pressure inside the brain which can result in headaches (often worse in the morning) and nausea. This can also cause seizures or fits in certain individuals.
Other symptoms of a brain tumour can often depend on the part of the brain where the tumour is located. Different parts of the brain are responsible for different functions and if a tumour is located in that area it can affect the individual’s ability to perform that specific function. Examples of this include changes in speech, coordination, vision or hearing. A brain tumour could also affect a person’s personality and behaviour or hormone levels.
What is the mortality rate of brain tumours?
Brain, other central nervous system (CNS) and intracranial tumours are the eighth most common cause of cancer death in the UK (2014), accounting for three percent of all cancer deaths.
How common are brain tumours?
In 2014, there were 5,223 brain, other CNS and intracranial tumour deaths in the UK. 55 percent of these were in males and 45 percent in females, giving a male to female ratio of around 12:10. This gives an average statistic of nine deaths for every 100,000 males in the UK, and seven for every 100,000 females1.
Is there anything that increases the risk of getting a brain tumour?
As mentioned above, there is a slightly higher risk of brain tumours in males than females.
Age is also a factor, as you get older the risk increases although there are a few tumours that are specific to children and young adults. Previous radiotherapy treatment to the brain, for example in childhood can also increase the risk of a brain tumour occurring later in life and there are also some rare genetic conditions which may increase the risk of a brain tumour occurring.
How is a brain tumour diagnosed?
Many people may initially present to their GP with symptoms as described. A GP may perform a physical examination and if concerned would then refer to the hospital for further investigations. For some types of tumour changes may first be detected by other professionals, for example during an eye or hearing test.
Investigations performed when a tumour is suspected could include scans, for example a CT or MRI scan. Blood tests may be performed to check for changes in hormones, which may be caused by the presence of a tumour.
If there is found to be a tumour, further investigations may be carried out to determine the type of tumour. In some cases surgical biopsy of the tumour may be performed, or further scans or tests to detect the presence of cancer in other parts of the body.
What is the treatment for a brain tumour?
The treatment for a brain tumour depends upon several factors. Whether a tumour is benign or malignant may affect the management of a brain tumour, as malignant tumours require treatment for urgently than some benign tumours.
For some benign tumours there may be several years of ‘watchful waiting’ where scans may be performed on a regular basis to monitor any changes before, or indeed if, treatment is required.
Treatment for brain tumours can include surgery, stereotactic radiosurgery (using a Gamma Knife or a Linear accelerator radiotherapy treatment machine), conventional radiotherapy. Chemotherapy or immunotherapy may also be used together with these.
If you have been diagnosed with a brain tumour are you allowed to drive?
Whether you can drive following the diagnosis of a brain tumour will depend of the type of brain tumour diagnosed and type of treatment received. For full advice please refer to the DVLA guidelines.
1 Statistics taken from cancerresearchuk.org