Brain tumor: symptoms, treatment & cure in India
The brain controls the entire the functioning of the body. It is a soft, spongy mass made up of a large number of tissues. The bones & the different layers of the tissues play a vital role in protecting the brain. The cerebrospinal fluid that flows between the spaces of the meninges & the ventricles, also contributes in protecting the brain. The brain controls the voluntary & the involuntary muscles which help us to perform various tasks such as walking, talking, etc (voluntary) and breathing, response to stimuli etc (involuntary) actions. The brain also controls the sense organs, memory systems, physical & mental emotions and an individual’s personality.
The 3 main parts of the brain that control various activities are:
- Cerebrum: this part of the brain processes the information from all the sense organs which help us in understanding the surrounding and also enables us to respond accordingly. It controls activities like reading, thinking, talking, emotions, & learning. The cerebrum is divided into 2 cerebral hemispheres: the left & the right hemisphere. The left cerebral hemisphere controls the muscles on the right side of the body & the right cerebral hemisphere controls the muscles on the left side of the body.
- Cerebellum: this part of the body controls various complex actions such as the balance of the body while walking or standing.
- Brain stem: the brain stem is responsible for connecting the brain to the spinal cord. It controls various body functions such as breathing, body temperature, blood pressure, etc.
Any small damage to the brain can alter the entire system of the human body. Have you ever noticed a very common headache has the ability to make you feel very weak & tired? You feel inactive and it often dozes you to sleep. In that case, you can very well imagine how horrible it would be to suffer from a brain tumor. So, this article mainly emphasizes on the types of brain tumor, diagnosis, & treatment procedures.
A primary brain tumor is the one that originates in the brain and is usually not cancerous & do not spread that easily to surrounding tissues. The exact cause of brain tumor is not known till date. There are only a few risk factors that can lead to or increase the chances of causing a brain tumor. Some of which are listed below:
- Exposure to high levels of radiations
- Genetic disorders such as neurofibromatosis
- Age is also a risk factor when it comes to this health condition. People between 65 to 80 years of age are at greater risk of brain tumor.
Types & grades of brain tumor:
The normal metabolic process of the body is that the normal cells grow old or get damaged with time and gradually die. New cells take up their place and the process continues. What happens at times is that there are chances that this process might go wrong. New cells grow when the body does not require it or the damaged cells may not die as and when they should. This leads to the extra cells being buildup which eventually forms a mass of tissue called the tumor.
Primary brain tumors may be benign or malignant and are never cancerous. These tumors can be easily removed and they usually don’t appear again. The benign tumor cells neither affect the tissues surrounding it nor do they spread to other parts of the body. However, these tumors may turn out to be serious & cause life-threatening situations when they develop on sensitive areas of the brain.
Unlike benign tumors in other parts of the body, benign brain tumors may be malignant which means they might turn out to be cancerous. Malignant brain tumors are otherwise called as brain cancer. These tumors are more serious and are often a threat to life. They grow rapidly and also affect the nearby healthy cells & tissues.
Doctors have categorized the tumors by grades. The grades are based on how the tumor cells look under a microscope. The tumors are broadly divided into 4 grades.
- Grade 1: In this, the cells look like normal brain cells under a microscope. They grow very slowly and do not affect the surrounding tissues and hence are benign tissues.
- Grade 2: the cells when viewed under a microscope do not look the same like normal brain cells. They grow & multiply rapidly as compared to grade 1 tumor cells. The tissues are malignant in this case.
- Grade 3: in this grade, the malignant cells look very much different from the normal brain cells under a microscope. The abnormal cells grow actively and spread at a faster rate.
- Grade 4: the malignant cells look very abnormal under a microscope and spread more rapidly to the surrounding tissues.
What are the symptoms of a brain tumor?
The symptoms of a brain tumor depend on the size, location & type of brain tumor. The symptoms are not readily noticeable at the initial stages of a brain tumor. The symptoms become noticeable when a tumor presses on a nerve or harms a part of the brain. The symptoms may also develop when the tumor blocks the pathway of the fluid that flows around the brain or when the brain is likely to swell when the fluid starts building up.
Those listed below are some of the common symptoms of brain tumor:
- Frequent headaches which get worse in the mornings
- Sudden noticeable changes in speech, vision & hearing
- Vomiting & Nausea
- Problems in balancing the body or walking
- Frequent mood swings
- Abnormal changes in personality
- Difficulty in concentrating
- Problems in memory
- Numbness in the legs & arms
- Frequent muscle seizures or muscle pulls
- Weakness in one part of the body
The above symptoms are quite common to a number of other health conditions. Don’t assume that you are suffering from a brain tumor just because you experience one of the above symptoms. It is always better to check with your doctor.
How is brain tumor diagnosed?
The doctor begins the examination by inspecting you with your medical history, family history and also asks questions about the symptoms and how long have you been suffering from it. The doctor then goes for a physical & neurological exam. In case, he/she suspects a brain tumor then he may suggest you take up one of the following tests.
Imaging tests such as CT or MRI scan will help in retrieving detailed images of the brain. Angiogram and X-ray of blood vessels in the brain may also be taken to observe signs of a brain tumor or abnormal blood vessels.
Sometimes, the doctor may also suggest for a biopsy to see if the tumor is cancerous. A tissue sample is taken from the brain either during the surgery or by inserting a small needle through a small hole drilled into the skull before the treatment commences. The sample is then sent to the lab for further testing.
A spinal tap is a procedure in which the doctor removes a cerebrospinal fluid from the lower part of the spinal cord. This is performed using anesthesia. The doctor uses a long thin needle to remove the fluid. This procedure will take about 30 minutes. You will have to lie flat to keep from getting a headache.
What if the tumor is in the brain stem or in any other sensitive part of the brain? It is not that easy to remove a sample tissue from these parts without actually disturbing the surrounding normal brain cells. Then, in such a case, the doctor will recommend you go for an MRI or CT scan to study as much as possible about the brain tumor.
How is the brain tumor treated?
There are various treatment options available for people with brain tumors. Brain surgery, radiation therapy & chemotherapy are some of the treatment options. Many people go in for a combination of treatments. The type of treatment depends on various factors such as the location of the tumor in the brain, the size of the tumor, the type & grade of brain tumor, the age and health of the patient.
The doctor might also need to know if the brain cancer has affected the cerebrospinal fluid. You doctor will make you aware of the treatment options, the associated side effects & the expected outcomes. You and your healthcare team can work together to develop the treatment plans, how the treatment will affect your normal activities and so on. The treatment plan developed should be in such a way so as to meet your personal & medical needs.
Surgery is usually the first treatment for brain tumor. A craniotomy is a surgery performed to open the skull. The surgeon will make a small incision through your scalp and uses a special type of saw to take a piece of bone from the skull. You will be awake when the surgeon removes part or whole of the tumor. You will be asked to move your hands & legs, count, tell a story or say the alphabets. Your ability to respond correctly to these commands will help them to protect the important parts of your brain.
Once the tumor is removed, the surgeon closes the opening in the skull with help of a piece of bone, metal or fabric. The surgeon then closes the incision on the scalp.
Other treatment options such as radiation therapy or chemotherapy are preferred when the brain tumor cannot be removed by surgical means. This happens when the brain tumor is located in the cerebrospinal fluid or another sensitive part of the brain.
After the brain surgery, you might feel very weak & tired. The healing time after the surgery varies from person to person. Sometimes a second surgery may be needed to drain the fluid. Another complication after the surgery is that there is a high risk of infections. If this happens then you will be treated with an antibiotic.
Sometimes brain surgery may unknowingly damage other normal brain tissues & cells. Brain damage is a serious problem as it will adversely affect the thinking, reading, balancing, and other physical activities of a person. These damages may lessen or disappear over time, but sometimes they might turn out to be permanent damage. One may require speech therapy, physical therapy & occupational therapy to recover slowly from this effect.