Brain tumors, also known as brain cancer, start within the substance of the brain, spinal cord or nerves. Some tumors which arise from the brain or spine coverings (meninges) are also considered primary brain tumors. Metastatic brain tumors have spread from cancer in other parts of the body, most frequently from the lungs, breast and colon.
Primary brain tumors arise from many types of brain tissue (for example, glial cells, astrocytes, and other brain cell types). Metastatic brain cancer is caused by the spread of cancer cells from a body organ to the brain. However, the causes for the change from normal cells to cancer cells in both metastatic and primary brain tumors are not fully understood. Data gathered by research scientists show that people with certain risk factors (situations or things associated with people that increase the probability of developing problems) are more likely to develop brain cancer.
Symptoms produced by brain tumors depend on their location, size, rate of growth and stage. Some nonmalignant brain tumors that grow slowly can become quite large before producing symptoms because there often is no swelling of the brain tissues. However, if because of their size or location, they cannot be easily removed, they can be as life threatening as malignant brain tumors.
Treatment for brain tumors depends on a number of factors including the type, location and size of the tumor as well as the patient’s age and general health. Treatment methods and schedules differ for children and adults.
Brain tumors are treated with surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Our doctors also are studying a vaccine for treating a recurrent cancer of the central nervous system that occurs primarily in the brain, known as glioma.
Radiation therapy uses beams of high-energy particles, such as X-rays, to kill tumor cells. Radiation therapy can come from a machine outside your body (external beam radiation), or, in very rare cases, radiation can be placed inside your body close to your brain tumor (brachytherapy).
Chemotherapy, the use of drugs to kill cancer cells, is sometimes used to treat brain tumors. The drugs may be given by mouth or by injection. Either way, the drugs enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body. The drugs are usually given in cycles so that a recovery period follows each treatment period.
Chemotherapy may be given in an outpatient part of the hospital, at the doctor’s office, or at home. Rarely, the patient may need to stay in the hospital.