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Brain Tumors: Know the Symptoms and What the Treatments Are

Brain tumors aren’t all cancerous, but they do require monitoring and a treatment plan from a doctor.
Two halves of a brain, the left one darker pink and the right one lighter pink. There is a system of gears and bands on the left side being pulled by a dark pink bump with a smiling face on the right side.
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Last updated May 9, 2023

Brain tumor quiz

Take a quiz to find out if you have brain tumor.

Brain tumor quiz

Take a quiz to find out if you have brain tumor.

Take brain tumor quiz

Brain tumors are abnormal growths of cells in the brain. They can develop in the brain tissue or the covering of the brain. Sometimes, tumors can spread from other parts of the body to the brain. People of any age can get brain tumors.

Brain tumors come in many types, and some are not cancerous (benign). Others are cancerous (malignant) and can grow rapidly, posing a greater risk to life. Both types can grow and put pressure on surrounding areas of the brain, leading to symptoms that affect normal functioning.

Symptoms of brain tumors include headaches, seizures, weakness in certain parts of the body, and other issues that depend on the affected area of the brain. It's important to see a doctor immediately if you experience any of these symptoms. Your doctor will assess if you need tests for a brain tumor and refer you to a cancer specialist (oncologist) if necessary. The oncologist will determine the type of brain tumor and recommend the best treatment option for you.

You may have headaches, a seizure, weakness in a part of your body or other issues depending on what part of the brain the tumor is affected. See a doctor as soon as possible. They can determine if you need to get testing for a brain tumor and should see a cancer specialist (oncologist). If you do, they will determine the type of brain tumor you have and the best treatment option for you.

Most common symptoms

Brain tumors can cause a range of symptoms depending on their location in the brain. Common symptoms include headaches, seizures, and specific symptoms like arm weakness or difficulty speaking, hearing loss or ringing in the ears, blurred vision, and more. If the tumor occurs on the pituitary gland, which directs hormones, it can cause breast discharge or abnormal periods in women. These symptoms can be wide-ranging, so it's important to consult your doctor if you experience any unusual symptoms. For instance, a persistent headache may indicate a brain tumor or other issues. Therefore, if you have unusual symptoms that persist, seek medical attention.

Main symptoms of brain tumors may include headache, seizure, drowsiness, hearing loss on one side, weakness in an arm or leg, vision loss, blurry vision, and unexplained nausea or vomiting.

Main symptoms

Pro Tip

Ask your doctor about what new treatment options are available. Or if you qualify to participate in a clinical trial. Participating in a clinical trial gives you the opportunity to potentially receive a new treatment. It also allows you to help others with a similar condition. —Dr. Walcott

Brain tumor quiz

Take a quiz to find out if you have brain tumor.

Take brain tumor quiz

Next steps

If you start getting a headache that does not subside with rest and over-the-counter pain relievers, see or talk to a doctor.

Go to the emergency room If you have weakness in an arm or leg, a seizure, persistent drowsiness, sudden loss of vision, severe persistent nausea/vomiting.

Brain tumor causes

The cause of brain tumors that originate in the brain is not entirely known. Scientists believe that they may occur because of changes to cell DNA (genetic instructions for how the cell functions). These changes may be partly due to environmental factors like pesticides. The DNA changes cause brain cells to grow and multiply unchecked.

Cancers can also travel to the brain from other parts of the body (metastasis). These cancer cells also have genetic changes that allow them to safely travel through the bloodstream and invade the brain, without being detected by the body’s normal defenses.

Dr. Rx

Radiosurgery is a kind of radiation that is given in a single, focused dose—it has revolutionized the treatment for many brain tumor types. It is completely non-invasive, meaning that there is no incision and no pain. Your doctor can advise whether radiosurgery is an option for your tumor type. —Dr. Walcott

Brain tumor treatments

To determine the type and stage of a brain tumor, an oncologist will first diagnose it using an imaging scan such as a CT or MRI. This will help identify the tumor's appearance and location.

If a slow-growing tumor (either benign or cancerous) is not causing significant functional issues, your doctor may recommend a "watch and wait" approach. This involves getting regular scans every year to monitor the tumor. Treatment is only necessary if the tumor starts to grow.

In some cases, a neurosurgeon may perform a biopsy to collect a small tissue sample from the tumor for analysis to determine whether the cells are cancerous.

Fast-growing tumors are more likely to be cancerous, requiring immediate treatment. Treatment options include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of these treatments. The choice of treatment depends on the tumor's location, size, and the risks and benefits associated with different treatments.

Brain cancer surgery

If surgery is recommended, patients are typically admitted to the hospital for the procedure. An MRI helps figure out the surgery plan. The goals range from confirming a diagnosis (biopsy) to removing the tumor completely.

Your treatment team will include a neurosurgeon and oncologist. Together you will decide on the best combination of therapies and surgeries for treating the tumor. Unfortunately, some aggressive cancers have no cure, but can be treated to improve symptoms and help patients live longer.

Ready to treat your brain tumor?

We show you only the best treatments for your condition and symptoms—all vetted by our medical team. And when you’re not sure what’s wrong, Buoy can guide you in the right direction.See all treatment options
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Brain tumor quiz

Take a quiz to find out if you have brain tumor.

Take brain tumor quiz

Brain tumors in children

Brain tumors are the most common solid tumors in children. Still, they are extremely rare. Treatment depends on what type of tumor it is and how it is affecting your child’s development. You should call your doctor if you notice symptoms like difficulty moving one side of the body or favoring one side of the body, ongoing head pain, or dizziness. A brain tumor could also contribute to developmental delays, like not moving or crawling on their own.

Brain tumor risk factors

Cancerous brain tumors are very uncommon. The chance you will develop a cancerous brain tumor is less than 1%. The most common reason for a brain tumor is when cancer from somewhere else in the body, like breast cancer or lung cancer, travels through the bloodstream and into the brain. There are generally no known risk factors for developing a brain tumor that starts within the brain tissue itself. There are some extremely rare genetic conditions that may be associated with certain types of brain tumors. Some medical treatments, such as scalp-specific radiation treatments, may increase risk of brain tumor.

Follow up

There are many types of doctors involved in the management of brain tumors. This includes neuro-oncologists, neurosurgeons, and radiation oncologists.

Depending on the type of tumor and where it is in the brain, eye doctors (ophthalmologists), gland specialists (endocrinologists), and other doctors will help manage symptoms and treatment.

In addition, you may work with a physical therapist, occupational therapist, or speech therapist to regain function. In some cases, a successful surgery may affect other parts of your body, such as your sight or speech. Treatment goals and plans will continually be discussed with you and your treatment care team.

Hear what 1 other is saying
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The stories shared below are not written by Buoy employees. Buoy does not endorse any of the information in these stories. Whenever you have questions or concerns about a medical condition, you should always contact your doctor or a healthcare provider.
Brain damage takes away your old life!Posted October 18, 2021 by J.
Yes, I have lost many things since my bought with viral encephalitis. Constant headaches, ringing in my ears, loss of smell, seizures, 30% brain damage, plus all of the mental problems. Even my anti-seizure medications have caused me to not think very well. As for the loss of all of my bottom teeth—I hope to get dental implants soon. But my family stood by my side in all of these problems. For they had to take me to all of my appointments now that I cant drive. I don't wish these prolonged seizures on anybody, but I have great care and my emergency medicine midazolam has been a wonder drug stopping my seizures in 2 minutes. Be thankful for what you can do.
Dr. Walcott is a dual fellowship trained neurosurgeon that specializes in neurovascular disease. His clinical interests are in the management of patients with stroke, brain aneurysms, arteriovenous malformations, cavernous malformations, carotid artery disease, moyamoya disease, brain tumors, and spinal cord tumors. He performs both surgery and minimally invasive, endovascular procedures. Dr. Walc...
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