What Is Brain Cancer?
The brain is one of the most interesting and complicated organs in the human body. The brain gives awareness of self and of the environment. It processes sensory data and controls our muscle movements, the secretions of our glands, and even our breathing and internal temperature. All our creative thoughts, feelings, and plans are developed by our brain. The brain’s neurons record the memory of all the events in our lives.
This organ is divided into three main regions based on embryonic development: the forebrain, midbrain and hindbrain.
Brain cancer occurs when cancerous cells grow uncontrollably in the brain and cause tumours. There are many different types of brain tumours. Some are noncancerous (benign), while others are cancerous (malignant).
Types of Brain Cancer
- Primary brain cancer refers to malignant tumours that form either in the brain or in the nerves originating in the brain. Brain cancer does not frequently spread (metastasize) to outside of the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS is the part of the nervous system that includes the brain and spinal cord. This type of cancer makes up 2% to 3% of all new cancer cases in adults and is the second most common form of childhood cancer (after leukaemia).
- Secondary brain cancer refers to malignant tumours that originated elsewhere but have spread (metastasized) to the brain. Examples include, but are not limited to, breast cancer and lung cancer that have metastasized to the brain. Secondary brain cancer is more common than primary brain cancer.
Signs and symptoms of Brain Cancer
The symptoms of brain cancer vary, depending on several factors, including the tumour type, size, location and extent, as well as the patient’s age and medical history. In addition, the symptoms are influenced by which part of the brain is involved and the functional system it affects (e.g. motor, sensory, language, etc.). Some signs include:
- Persistent and severe headaches
- Weakness of muscles
- Blurry vision
- Changes in speech
- Problems with memory
- Reduced sensation
- Paralysis of some parts of the body
- Personality changes
Causes and Risk Factors of Brain Cancers
The exact cause of brain cancer is not known (as is the case for most cancers). However, there are some risk factors that may increase a person’s chance of getting brain cancer. These factors include:
- Radiation Exposure: when a person is exposed to radiation to the head, even during brain cancer treatment, the exposure could increase their risk of getting tumours in the brain.
- Smoking: smoking is a risk factor for many types of cancers, including brain cancer, therefore smokers have a higher risk of getting this cancer.
- Genetic Factors: if one’s genetic makeup is affected by a condition such as Turcot syndrome or neurofibromatosis, this could cause disorders in the genes thereby increasing the person’s risk of getting cancer.
- Environmental Toxins: exposure to toxic chemicals like benzene and working in environments with toxic emissions such as rubber industries can also increase one’s risk of getting brain cancer.
- Other factors: potential factors that are still to be confirmed as risk factors for brain cancer include viral infections like HIV, use of cell phones and head trauma.
Diagnosis of Brain Cancer
Doctors use many tests to find, or diagnose, a brain tumour and to learn the type of brain tumour involved. In addition, they do tests to learn if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. These diagnostic methods include:
- CT/ MRI scans: computerized tomography and magnetic resonance involves getting images of the internal structure of the brain. MRI’s provide more detail than CT Scans.
- Biopsy: a biopsy is done to confirm whether a brain tumour is cancerous. A small sample is removed from the tumour through surgery. In a case where the surgeon cannot remove the entire tumour, the doctor removes a small part of it. In other cases, the tumour can be removed without surgery using CT and MRI scans to determine the tumour’s exact location. A hole is made in the skull and a needle is used to collect the tumour. The tumour is then viewed under a microscope to determine whether it is cancerous or not.
Once the tumour is proven to be cancer, the following treatment options may be used, depending on its location, size, type of cancer, the age of the victim and the victim’s / her health status:
- Surgery: This is done to remove the tumor if it was not removed fully during biopsy. Radiation Therapy: It involves using high- energy radiation to destroy the cancer cells and prevent them from growing. To prevent these beams from destroying normal healthy cells, radiosurgery is used which ensures that the beams are focused or concentrated on the tumor.
- Chemotherapy: the use of drugs to kill or destroy the cancer cells. Drugs are injected into the cerebrospinal fluid or permanently placed under the scalp through surgery.
- Immunotherapy: this treatment option involves using drugs to trigger the body’s immune system to kill the cancer cells. It may be used together with other treatments.
- Target therapy: this uses drugs to target the cancer cells and kill them without destroying healthy cells.
Prevention of Brain Cancer
- Eating a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables
- Going for check-ups regularly
- Treating conditions that if not treated, may lead to cancer
- Taking preventive measure if you work in a toxic environment.