More than 17,000 people in the United States are diagnosed each year with a brain tumor. Some tumors are benign (noncancerous). Noncancerous tumors can usually be removed and are not likely to recur. Other tumors are malignant (cancerous). These tumors interfere with vital functions and are life threatening. Cancerous brain tumors usually grow rapidly, crowding and invading tissue.
Primary brain tumors (gliomas) start in the brain and affect the central nervous system (CNS). They can be noncancerous or cancerous. Secondary brain tumors, which are 10 times more common, are cancers that originated elsewhere in the body and have metastasized (spread) to the brain. Secondary tumors are about 3 times more common than primary tumors of the brain.
Signs and Symptoms
A brain tumor can be accompanied by the following signs and symptoms:
Who's Most At Risk?
People with the following conditions or characteristics may be at risk for developing a brain tumor:
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
If you have symptoms of a brain tumor, you should see your health care provider immediately. Your health care provider will ask about your personal and family medical history and perform a complete physical and neurologic exam. This includes checks for alertness, muscle strength, coordination, reflexes, and response to pain, and an eye exam to look for swelling caused by a tumor pressing on the nerve that connects the eye and the brain. Your health care provider may order a computed tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) scan, or single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) scan. A positron emission tomography (PET) scan or a combination PET-CT scan may help doctors assess the metabolic effects of cancer. Additional tests may include skull x-ray, brain scan, angiogram or arteriogram, and a myelogram (x-ray of the spine, using dye). If cancer is present, others who may become involved in your care include a neurosurgeon, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, nurse, dietitian, social worker, physical therapist, occupational therapist, and speech therapist.
Treatment for a brain tumor depends on the type, location, and size of the tumor, as well as the person's age and general health. Treatment generally involves surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, brachytherapy, or some combination of these.
Your health care provider may prescribe the following therapies:
Surgical and Other Procedures
Surgery is the most common treatment. To remove a brain tumor, a neurosurgeon performs a craniotomy, which involves making an opening in the skull. If the tumor cannot be at least partially removed, the surgeon may perform a biopsy, in which a small piece of the tumor is removed so that a pathologist can examine it under a microscope to determine the type of cancer cells. This necessary information helps determine other forms of treatment.
Physicians may insert a shunt to drain cerebrospinal fluid. A shunt is a long, thin tube placed in the brain and then threaded under the skin to another part of the body, usually the abdomen. It works like a drainpipe, allowing excess fluid to be carried away from the brain and absorbed in the abdomen. Scientists are also developing therapies such as targeted toxins.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
A comprehensive treatment plan for brain cancer may include a range of complementary and alternative therapies. Many naturally oriented doctors believe that nutrients and herbs may protect against side effects from conventional therapies, as well as enhance chemotherapy and support anticancer activities. Other doctors are concerned that certain natural medications may interfere with conventional cancer therapies. It is important for patients to educate themselves and inform their health care providers about any therapies, conventional and natural, that they are using. Mind-body therapies -- such as meditation, relaxation techniques, guided imagery, hypnosis, yoga, and qi gong -- may reduce the effects of stress and enhance your quality of life and your response to treatment. Ask your team of health care providers about the best way to incorporate these therapies into your overall treatment plan, and make sure to inform your health care provider about any herbs, supplements, or treatments you are taking.
Nutrition and Supplements
Following these nutritional tips may help reduce symptoms:
You may address nutritional deficiencies with the following supplements. Working with nutritionists and herbal professionals may be part of a comprehensive cancer care program, but remember to inform your health care providers about any nutritional therapies and herbal medicines that you are using. Some supplements may interfere with cancer therapies and new information is becoming available all the time.
Herbs are generally a safe way to strengthen and tone the body's systems. As with any therapy, you should speak to your health care provider before starting treatment.
Combine essential oils of bergamot (Citrus bergamia), chamomile (Matricaria recutita), and lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) in aromatherapy applications. Place several drops in a warm bath, or 4 - 6 drops in 1 tbsp. of vegetable oil for massage.
An experienced homeopath can prescribe a regimen for supporting general health during brain cancer that is designed especially for you. Acute remedies may help relieve symptoms associated with complications.
Homeopathy may help reduce symptoms and strengthen overall constitution, reduce the effects of stress during cancer, and may decrease the side effects of chemotherapy.
While acupuncture is not used as a treatment for cancer itself, evidence suggests it can be a valuable therapy for the cancer related symptoms (particularly nausea and vomiting) that often accompany chemotherapy treatment. Studies also indicate that acupuncture may help reduce pain and shortness of breath. Acupressure (pressing on rather than needling acupuncture points) also helps control breathlessness. Patients can learn this technique to treat themselves.
Some acupuncturists prefer to work with a patient only after the completion of conventional medical cancer therapy. Others will provide acupuncture or herbal therapy during active chemotherapy or radiation. Acupuncturists treat cancer patients based on an individualized assessment of the excesses and deficiencies of qi located in various meridians. In many cases of cancer related symptoms, a qi deficiency is usually detected in the spleen or kidney meridians.
The outlook varies greatly depending on the type of tumor and other factors. Some types of brain cancer have a 5-year survival rate above 80%. Brain cancer has significant emotional and psychological effects. Patients who receive radiation therapy to large areas of the brain or certain anticancer drugs may have a higher risk of developing leukemia or a second tumor at a later time. Radiation that affects the eyes may lead to the later development of cataracts.
Since brain tumors can develop in parts of the brain that control motor skills, speech, vision and thinking, rehabilitation may be a necessary part of recovery. Rehabilitation may include physical therapy, vocational therapy, and cognitive and speech therapy.
After treatment, it is important to get regular follow-up exams, to make sure the tumor has not returned. Checkups usually include physical and neurologic exams and occasional CT scans or MRIs.
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Review Date: 6/4/2012
Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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