Brain Tumor

Malignant brain tumors can affect both children and adult. Indeed, they are quite common and comprise about 10 to 30% of all adult cancers.

Brain scan of healthy brain (left) and brain tumor (shown in blue, right).
Healthy brain (left) compared to brain tumor (shown in blue, right).

There are many types of brain tumors, which are classified according to the affected tissue. They include:

  • Glioma – glia or neuroglia, a tissue that surrounds and supports the neurons or nerve cells of the brain.
  • Meningioma – meninges or membrane enclosing the brain and spinal cord
  • Astrocytoma – astrocyte or star-shaped neuroglia cell.
  • Medulloblastoma – cerebellum
  • Ependymoma – ependyma or epithelial membrane lining the ventricles of the brain and the canal of the spinal cord
  • Brain stem glioma – portion of the brain that contains the medulla oblongata, pons Varolii, and midbrain. This portion of the brain connects the spinal cord to the brain.

Cause of Malignant Brain Tumor

About 20 to 40% of brain tumors originated elsewhere in the body. These are cancer cells that metastasize or spread into the brain.

While the exact cause of other forms of brain tumors are unknown, it is suspected that ionizing radiation can lead to malignant growth. Ionizing radiation is a high-energy radiation that cause damage to the DNA molecules, thus causing mutations that lead to cancer.

Brain Tumor in Children

Brain tumor accounts for 20% of all childhood cancer, and affects 3 out of every 100,000 children. This incidence is the highest before the age of 12 years, with about 1,200 new cases diagnosed annually.

The most common forms of brain tumor in children are astrocytoma, medulloblastoma, ependymoma, and brain stem glioma.

Symptoms and Signs

Tumor or growth in the brain cause destruction of the central nervous system as it invades and destroy other brain tissues. The physical mass of the tumor can also cause secondary effects, such as:

The exact symptoms depend on the size, type and location of the tumor, as well as the extent of the invasion. Onset of the symptoms is often subtle, thus causing a high rate of misdiagnosis of brain cancer.


The following tests are used to diagnose brain tumors:

  • Neurological assessment

  • Skull x-ray and cerebral angiography
    The blood vessels are examined by x-rays after injection of a solution to make them visible.

  • Computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

  • Electroencephalogram (EEG)
    This test measures the electrical activity of the brain. A tumor may show up as localized abnormality.

  • Spinal tap or lumbar puncture
    In this test, a sample of the cerebrospinal fluid is taken from the spine. Brain tumor would result in increased pressure, higher protein level, decreased sugar or glucose level. There may also be tumor cells in the cerebrospinal fluid.

  • Tissue biopsy
    A sample of the tumor is collected through a specialized surgery using stereotaxis technique. Here, the surgeon can target a specific location, guided by a CT scan or MRI.

Brain Tumor Treatment

Treatment of brain cancer depends on the type of the tumor, its location and sensitivity to radiation and chemical agents. The aims of the treatments are to remove the tumor if possible, or if not then to reduce it, to relieve the symptoms and to prevent further brain damage.

The following are some treatment options for brain tumor:

  • Surgery
    Resectable tumor (growth that can be removed surgically) are treated by surgery called craniotomy where incisions are made into the skull, followed by radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Repeated surgery may be necessary.

  • Chemotherapy
    Chemotherapy uses chemical agents to kill rapidly growing cancer cells. In case of brain tumors, to facilitate chemotherapeutic drugs crossing the blood-brain barrier, additional drugs like nitrosoureas (such as carmustine, lomustine, or procarbazine) are used. These drugs are injected into the bloodstream and into the space under the arachnoid membrane of the brain.

  • Radiation therapy
    Here, focused beams of high-energy radiation is used to selectively kill the cancerous growth.

  • Other medicines to control the symptoms
    These include:
Dexamethasone (synthetic steroid) To control cerebral edema or accumulation of fluid
Urea and mannitol (diuretic) To reduce brain swelling
Analgesics or pain killers To reduce pain
Antacids To reduce stress ulcers
Phenytoin (anticonvulsant) To reduce seizures



See also:
Increased intracranial pressure (ICP)

Brain Tumor Types:

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