Understanding Brain Tumors

While it is normal to feel scared, insecure, or angry about a brain tumor diagnosis, you can empower yourself to cope by taking this one step at a time. Start gathering information. Talk to everyone who can be a resource to you. No question is too trivial.

Below is information to help you get started. In addition, please consult our comprehensive resource guide, Frankly Speaking About Cancer: Brain Tumors and start empowering yourself to tackle this disease and lead a productive life.

You can also consult the National Cancer Institute’s online book, What You Need to Know About Brain Tumors.

Brain Structures And Functions

What is a Brain Tumor?

A brain tumor is an abnormal growth
of tissue in the brain or central spine that can disrupt proper brain function. Doctors refer to a tumor based on where the tumor cells originated, and whether they are cancerous (malignant) or not (benign).

  • Benign: The least aggressive type of brain tumor is often called a benign brain tumor. They originate from cells within or surrounding the brain, do not contain cancer cells, grow slowly, and typically have clear borders that do not spread into other tissue.
  • Malignant: Malignant brain tumors contain cancer cells and often do not have clear borders. They are considered to be life threatening because they grow rapidly and invade surrounding brain tissue.
  • Primary: Tumors that start in cells of the brain are called primary brain tumors. Primary brain tumors may spread to other parts of the brain or to the spine, but rarely to other organs.
  • Metastatic: Metastatic or secondary brain tumors begin in another part of the body and then spread to the brain. These tumors are more common than primary brain tumors and are named by the location in which they begin.

There are over 120 types of brain and central nervous system tumors. Brain and spinal cord tumors are different for everyone. They form in different areas, develop from different cell types, and may have different treatment options.

Learn more about tumor types.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Brain tumor symptoms can vary according to tumor type and location. There are times a person may have no symptoms when their brain tumor is discovered

  • Recurrent headaches
  • Issues with vision
  • Seizures
  • Changes in personality
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Poor coordination
  • Difficulty speaking or comprehending

Whatever symptoms you have, discuss them fully with your physician so everyone has the most accurate information.

Diagnosing a brain tumor can be a complicated process and involve a number of specialists, depending on where you live or where you seek medical attention. A brain scan, most often an MRI, is the first step. A biopsy may be necessary, so a pathologist can be brought in to help identify the brain tumor type.

Download full chapter on “Understanding Brain Tumors” from Frankly Speaking