Malignant brain tumours, also known as brain cancer, are formed when abnormal cells divide uncontrollably and spread to other areas of the brain. They can be either primary, meaning they originate in the brain, or secondary, meaning they begin in another part of the body and spread to the brain. These tumours can be either fast-growing or slow-growing, depending on the type. Common symptoms of malignant brain tumours may include headaches, nausea, balance issues, difficulty speaking, cognitive deficits, and seizures. Treatment for malignant brain tumours typically involves surgery, radiation therapy, and sometimes chemotherapy.
The symptoms of a malignant brain tumour vary depending on the type and location of the tumour. Common symptoms may include:
- Headaches that worsen over time, especially in the morning
- Changes in mental functioning, such as memory loss, confusion, or personality changes
- Nausea and vomiting, which usually occur in the morning
- Changes in speech, vision, or hearing
- Weakness or paralysis on one side of the face, arm, or leg
- Loss of balance or dizziness
- Increased pressure within the skull, which may cause headaches, vision loss, or nausea
The exact cause of malignant brain tumours is not known, however there are some risk factors that may contribute. These risk factors include:
- Exposure to certain carcinogens (e.g. radiation, pesticides and hydrocarbons)
- Genetic factors such as certain gene mutations
- HIV infection
- Previous radiation therapy
- Exposure to certain viruses such as Epstein-Barr virus or cytomegalovirus (CMV)
- Age-related factors, such as increases in age or family history of brain cancer
- Immune system disorders, such as HIV or AIDS
- Age: The risk of developing a malignant brain tumor increases with age, especially after age 55.
- Genetics: Certain genetic syndromes, such as Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Neurofibromatosis, and Turcot syndrome, are associated with an increased risk of malignant brain tumors.
- Exposure to radiation: Exposure to radiation, such as from X-rays or CT scans, may increase the risk of malignant brain tumors, especially in children.
- Occupational exposure: People who work in certain industries and jobs, such as radiology and working with or handling hazardous materials, may be at an increased risk.
- Gender: Malignant brain tumors are more common in men than in women.
- Race: Malignant brain tumors are more common among African Americans than other racial groups.
Malignant brain tumours (cancerous) are diagnosed through a combination of physical exams, imaging tests, such as MRI or CT scans, laboratory tests, and biopsies, which involve surgically removing a sample of the tumour to examine it under a microscope. Brain tumours can also be diagnosed through a process called lumbar puncture, whereby a long hollow needle is used to withdraw a sample of the cerebrospinal fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. This procedure is used to determine if there are cancer cells in the fluid, which would indicate the presence of a malignant brain tumour.
There are several different types of malignant brain tumors that can form in the brain and spinal cord. These include glioblastoma, astrocytoma, ependymoma, oligodendroglioma, and mixed gliomas.
Glioblastoma is the most aggressive type of brain tumor, and it forms from glial cells. These cells make up the supportive tissue of the brain and spinal cord. Glioblastoma grows quickly and can spread to other parts of the brain.
Astrocytoma is a type of tumor that forms from star-shaped glial cells, called astrocytes. These tumors can be low grade or high grade. Low-grade astrocytomas grow slowly and are less likely to spread, while high-grade astrocytomas grow quickly and spread to other areas of the brain.
Ependymoma is a type of tumor that starts in the ependymal cells that line the ventricles. These tumors can be benign or malignant. Malignant ependymomas tend to spread throughout the brain and spinal cord.
Oligodendroglioma is a type of tumor that forms from oligodendrocytes, which are cells that make up the brain’s supportive tissue. These tumors tend to grow slowly, but they can spread to other parts of the brain.
Mixed gliomas are tumors that contain two or more types of glial cells. These tumors can be benign or malignant and can spread to other areas of the brain.
The treatment options for a malignant brain tumour depend on several factors, such as the type, size, location, and stage of the cancer. In general, treatments will be tailored to the patient’s situation and may include some combination of surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and/or immunotherapy.
Surgery is often the first line of treatment for malignant brain tumours. The goal of surgery is to remove as much of the cancerous tissue as possible. The extent of the surgery depends on the size, location, and type of tumour.
Radiation therapy, also known as radiotherapy, is a form of treatment used to destroy cancer cells. It can be delivered either externally or internally, and may be used before or after surgery.
Chemotherapy is a form of treatment used to kill cancer cells. It may be administered orally, intravenously, or injected directly into the tumor. Immunotherapy is a newer form of treatment used to activate the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells.
Additional treatments may include targeted drug therapies and/or clinical trials. Treatment plans should be discussed with the patient’s oncologist to determine the best course of action.
The most important step to reduce the risk of malignant brain tumour is to reduce exposure to known risk factors. Avoiding excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, not smoking, and minimizing exposure to environmental toxins, such as certain chemicals, may help reduce risk. Eating a healthy and balanced diet and exercising regularly may also help to reduce risk. Additionally, if a person is aware of any family history of brain cancer, they should inform their doctor and discuss any additional precautions they can take to reduce their risk. Lastly, regular check-ups with a doctor are important to ensure that any changes in a person’s health are addressed as soon as possible.
Yes, there are gender-specific differences in the presentation and management of Malignant brain tumours.
Research has shown that women experience higher rates of gliomas, which is the most common type of malignant brain tumour, compared to men. Gliomas tend to have a poorer prognosis in women. In terms of management, research has also found that women have a higher rate of surgical complication compared to men, which can lead to poorer outcomes.
Women may also present differently than men when it comes to symptoms of brain tumours, such as headaches, dizziness, and changes in mental status. As such, it is important for healthcare providers to be aware of any potential gender differences and adjust their management of Malignant brain tumours accordingly.
Nutrition plays an important role in the management of malignant brain tumor. Proper nutrition can help to keep the body functioning at its optimal level and can help improve the body’s natural abilities to fight cancer. Eating a healthy diet, as well as taking nutritional supplements and vitamins, can help improve the body’s ability to fight the tumor. Proper nutrition and a healthy diet are especially important for brain tumor patients, as the body and brain require extra energy and nutrition to combat the tumor. A healthy diet should contain plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats, while limiting unhealthy processed and refined carbohydrates. Additionally, taking antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals can help to boost the immune system and lower inflammation, which may help to reduce tumor growth and progression.
Physical activity does not directly affect the growth of malignant brain tumours because tumour growth is a complex process regulated by genetic changes. However, regular physical activity has been shown to improve outcomes in people with cancer. This effect has been most consistently seen in those with breast, colon, and prostate cancers. Researchers believe that physical activity influences the body’s metabolism, which may help to slow the growth and progression of cancer. In people with brain tumours, physical activity has been associated with improved quality of life, decreased fatigue, improved mood, and increased overall physical well-being. However, physical activity should always be discussed with an oncologist beforehand to determine what level of exertion is best for each individual.