Contributed by Dr. Maitri Gandhi and Dr. Kinjal Jani, Department of Radiation Oncology, HCG Cancer Centre, Ahmedabad
Change in the pattern of headaches, constant sensation of vomiting, blurred vision can be the warning sign of a brain tumor which cannot be ignored. Brain tumour is a cluster of abnormal cells that arises from the nervous tissues of the brain. It is the irregular proliferation of cells creating a tumour. Brain tumours can either be benign, with no cancer cells, or malignant, with cancer cells that grow quickly.
Common types of non-cancerous tumours are pituitary adenoma, meningioma, acoustic neuroma. The cancerous tumours are gliomas, ependymomas, medulloblastomas, metastasis from cancers of different body parts, etc.
The signs and symptoms of brain tumour are diverse and may vary from mild to major red flag signs. Not all the signs or symptoms are present in all patients. The symptoms mainly depend on the location of the tumour in the brain. The most common warning signs of brain tumours are as follows. Majority of the tumours presents with a mix of these signs & symptoms.
- Seizures / Convulsions
A brain tumour may cause the neurons to fire uncontrollably leading to abnormal body movements. The seizure may be focal, involving one area of the body or it may be generalized involving the whole body. This usually happens when the tumour involves parietal lobe of brain, which controls motor function of the body.
- Imbalance / Giddiness
Loss of balance and clumsiness in fine movements are linked with tumours of the cerebellum. The cerebellum commonly known as small brain which is behind the head and just above the neck area controls the balance of the body. So, a tumour in this location leads to vertigo, giddiness, or imbalance. Sometimes a person tends to sway towards one side while walking and feels like falling.
- Visual disturbances or Hearing loss
Blurred vision, double vision, partial or complete loss of vision can be signs of a brain tumour if it is in occipital lobe, temporal lobe, brain stem or near pituitary gland. The tumours may lead to pressure on optic pathways leading to visual disturbances. Pituitary adenoma and optic nerve meningiomas are most common tumours leading to visual disturbances. Acoustic neuromas are tumours located in nerve of ear, which leads to hearing loss or some whistle like noise in ear (tinnitus).
- Memory loss or personality changes
Tumours in the frontal or temporal lobe may lead to forgetfulness, changes in behaviour, confusion, changes in judgement and changes in speech. People tend to become agitated without any reason or may tend to become inactive in some situations. Usually, the recent memory loss is a common symptom in such tumours.
- Nausea/ vomiting
Nausea and vomiting may be a symptom of simple gastric disturbance but if it is persistent in nature and associated with projectile vomiting, it may signal an underlying brain problem. This usually happens because of edema in surrounding brain due to tumour.
- Weakness in arms and legs (paralysis)
Altered perception of touch, pressure, weakness, or decreased movements of limbs on one side are signs of a tumour located in frontal or parietal lobe. Many times, patients just feels that his or her handwriting has changed, or the signature has changed because of weakness in hands. Difficulty in swallowing and facial weakness is a sign of brain stem tumours.
Headache may be experienced around the tumour area. Unlike the usual headache, it is persistent for more than few days and associated commonly with nausea, vomiting or other signs. The swelling near the tumour area leads to pressure on surrounding tissues and it leads to headache. It may be severe and experienced more in early morning. The headache usually happens in many other conditions also, so only headache may not be the symptom in many brain tumours.
The treatment depends on the type, size, location of the tumour and the general health of the patient. Malignant tumours are usually treated with a surgery. Some tumours multiply rapidly while some tumours grow very slowly. Treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy. If you see any of the signs and symptoms mentioned immediately consult a doctor for further evaluation and treatment.