The brain and spinal cord make up the central nervous system (CNS). Brain
and spinal cord tumors are growths of abnormal cells in tissues of the
brain or spinal cord. Tumors that start in the brain are called primary
brain tumors. A tumor that starts in another part of the body and spreads
to the brain is called a metastatic brain tumor.
Brain and spinal cord tumors may be either benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer).
Both benign and malignant tumors cause signs and symptoms and need treatment.
Benign brain and spinal cord tumors grow and press on nearby areas of
the brain but rarely spread into other parts of the brain. Malignant brain
and spinal cord tumors are likely to grow quickly and spread into other
parts of the brain.
There are many types of brain and spinal cord tumors. They form in different
cell types and different areas of the brain and spinal cord. The signs
and symptoms of brain and spinal cord tumors depend on where the tumor
forms, its size, how fast it is growing, and the age of the patient.
Brain and spinal cord tumors can occur in both adults and children. The
types of tumors that form and the way they are treated are different in
children and adults.
The prognosis (chance of recovery) depends on many factors, including age,
tumor size, tumor type, and where the tumor is in the central nervous system.
People with a brain tumor may experience the following symptoms or signs.
Sometimes, people with a brain tumor do not have any of these changes.
Or, the cause of a symptom may be a different medical condition that is
not a brain tumor.
Symptoms of a brain tumor can be general or specific. A general symptom
is caused by the pressure of the tumor on the brain or spinal cord. Specific
symptoms are caused when a specific part of the brain is not working well
because of the tumor. For many people with a brain tumor, they were diagnosed
when they went to the doctor after experiencing a problem, such as a headache
or other changes.
General symptoms include:
Headaches, which may be severe and worsen with activity or in the early morning
Seizures. Motor seizures, also called convulsions, are sudden involuntary
movements of a person’s muscles. People may experience different
types of seizures, including myclonic and tonic-clonic (grand mal). Certain
drugs can help prevent or control them. The differences between these
types of seizures are listed below:
Tonic-Clonic (Grand Mal)
Loss of consciousness and body tone, followed by twitching and relaxing
muscles that are called contractions
Loss of control of body functions
May be a short 30-second period of no breathing and a person may turn a
shade of blue
After this type of seizure, a person may be sleepy and experience a headache,
confusion, weakness, numbness, and sore muscles.
May cause a loss of awareness or a partial or total loss of consciousness
May be associated with repetitive, unintentional movements, such as twitching
Personality or memory changes
Nausea or vomiting
Changes in ability to walk or perform daily activities
Symptoms that may be specific to the location of the tumor include:
Pressure or headache near the tumor
Loss of balance and difficulty with fine motor skills is linked with a
tumor in the cerebellum.
Changes in judgment, including loss of initiative, sluggishness, and muscle
weakness or paralysis is associated with a tumor in the frontal lobe of
Partial or complete loss of vision is caused by a tumor in the occipital
lobe or temporal lobe of the cerebrum.
Changes in speech, hearing, memory, or emotional state, such as aggressiveness
and problems understanding or retrieving words can develop from a tumor
in the frontal and temporal lobe of the cerebrum.
Altered perception of touch or pressure, arm or leg weakness on 1 side
of the body, or confusion with left and right sides of the body are linked
to a tumor in the frontal or parietal lobe of the cerebrum.
Inability to look upward can be caused by a pineal gland tumor.
Lactation, which is the secretion of breast milk, and altered menstrual
periods in women, and growth in hands and feet in adults are linked with
a pituitary tumor.
Difficulty swallowing, facial weakness or numbness, or double vision is
a symptom of a tumor in the brain stem.
Vision changes, including loss of part of the vision or double vision can
be from a tumor in the temporal lobe, occipital lobe, or brain stem.
If you are concerned about any changes you experience, please talk with
your doctor. Your doctor will ask how long and how often you’ve
been experiencing the symptom(s), in addition to other questions.
Source: National Cancer Institute
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