What is a brain tumor?
A brain tumor or cancer is a collection, or mass, of abnormal cells in your brain. Your skull, which encloses your brain, is very rigid. Any growth inside such a restricted space can cause problems. Brain tumors can be cancerous (malignant) or noncancerous (benign). When benign or malignant tumors grow, they can cause the pressure inside your skull to increase. This can cause brain damage, and it can be life-threatening.
Brain tumors are categorized as primary or secondary. A primary brain tumor originates in your brain. Many primary brain tumors are benign. A secondary brain tumor, also known as a metastatic brain tumor, occurs when cancer cells spread to your brain from another organ, such as your lung or breast.
Signs and symptoms of brain tumor
Symptoms of brain tumors vary depending on the type, size, and exact location in the brain. Following are some general signs and symptoms.
A tumor in the brain can put pressure on sensitive nerves and blood vessels. This may result in new headaches, or a change in your old pattern of headaches.
Worsening headaches are a common symptom, affecting about 50 percent of people with brain tumors, such as the following:
- You have persistent pain, but it’s not like a migraine.
- It hurts more when you first get up in the morning.
- It’s accompanied by vomiting or new neurological symptoms.
- It gets worse when you exercise, cough, or change position.
- over-the-counter pain medicines don’t help at all.
Even if you’re getting more headaches than you used to, or they’re worse than they used to be, it doesn’t mean you have a brain tumor. People get headaches for a variety of reasons, from a skipped meal or lack of sleep to concussion or stroke.
Brain tumors can push on nerve cells in the brain. This can interfere with electrical signals and result in a seizure.
A seizure is sometimes the first sign of a brain tumor, but it can happen at any stage. About 50 percent of people with brain tumors experience at least one seizure.
Seizures don’t always come from a brain tumor. Other causes of seizures include neurological problems, brain diseases, and drug withdrawal.
Personality changes or mood swings
Tumors in the brain can disrupt brain function, affecting your personality and behavior. They can also cause unexplained mood swings. For example:
- You were easy to get along with, but now you’re more easily irritated.
- You used to be a “go-getter,” but you’ve become passive.
- You’re relaxed and happy one minute and, the next, you’re starting an argument for no apparent reason.
These symptoms can be caused by a tumor in:
These changes can occur early on, but you can also get these symptoms from chemotherapy and other cancer treatments.
Personality changes and mood swings can also be due to mental disorders, substance abuse, and other disorders involving the brain.
Memory loss and confusion
Memory problems can be due to a tumor in the frontal or temporal lobe. A tumor in the frontal or parietal lobe can also affect reasoning and decision-making. For example, you may find that:
- It’s hard to concentrate, and you’re easily distracted.
- You’re often confused about simple matters.
- You can’t multitask and have trouble planning anything.
- You have short-term memory issues.
This can happen with a brain tumor at any stage. It can also be a side effect of chemotherapy, radiation, or other cancer treatments. These problems can be exacerbated by fatigue.
Mild cognitive problems can happen for a variety of reasons other than a brain tumor. They can be the result of vitamin deficiencies, medications, or emotional disorders, among other things.
Fatigue is more than feeling a little tired once in a while. These are some signs that you’re experiencing true fatigue:
- You’re completely exhausted most or all of the time.
- You feel weak overall and your limbs feel heavy.
- You often find yourself falling asleep in the middle of the day.
- You’ve lost your ability to focus.
- You’re irritable and out of sorts
Fatigue can be due to a cancerous brain tumor. But fatigue can also be a side effect of cancer treatments. Other conditions that cause fatigue include autoimmune diseases, neurological conditions, and anemia, to name just a few.
Depression is a common symptom among people who have received a diagnosis of a brain tumor. Even caregivers and loved ones can develop depression during the treatment period. This can present as:
- feelings of sadness lasting longer than what seems normal for the situation
- loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
- lack of energy, trouble sleeping, insomnia
- thoughts of self-harm or suicide
- feelings of guilt or worthlessness
Nausea and vomiting
You might have nausea and vomiting in the early stages because a tumor is causing a hormone imbalance.
During treatment for a cancerous brain tumor, nausea and vomiting could be side effects from chemotherapy or other treatments.
Of course, you can experience nausea and vomiting for a variety of other reasons, including food poisoning, influenza, or pregnancy.
Weakness and numbness
A feeling of weakness can happen just because your body is fighting the tumor. Some brain tumors cause numbness or tingling of the hands and feet.
This tends to happen on only one side of the body and could indicate a tumor in certain parts of the brain.
Weakness or numbness can be side effects of cancer treatment, too. Other conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, diabetic neuropathy, and Guillain-Barre syndrome can also cause these symptoms.
Signs and symptoms based on Brain tumor location
Some symptoms can provide insights into where the tumor might be located within the brain.
Vision problems can be due to a tumor located in or around the:
Speech, reading, and writing difficulties:
- certain parts of the cerebrum
- certain parts of the cerebellum
- temporal lobe
- parietal lobe
- near cranial nerves
- temporal lobe
- in or near cranial nerves
Trouble with movement in the hands, arms, feet, and legs, or difficulty walking:
- frontal lobe
Balance issues may indicate a tumor near the base of the brain. Facial numbness, weakness, or pain may also occur with a tumor in this area.
When to see a doctor about your Brain tumor
If you have some of the signs and symptoms listed above, it certainly doesn’t mean you have a brain tumor.
Because these symptoms overlap with those of so many other conditions, it’s important to get the correct diagnosis. And for many diseases, earlier diagnosis and treatment provide a better outlook.