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Brain cancer is an abnormal growth of cells in the brain. While benign tumors generally do not invade other tissues and usually have a distinguishable edge, malignant (cancerous) tumors contain fast-growing cells that can spread to surrounding healthy brain tissue. Benign tumors tend to cause symptoms by putting pressure on surrounding structures, while malignant tumors tend to invade and destroy adjacent structures. There are two types of brain cancer: primary, which originates in the brain, and metastatic, cancer that begins elsewhere in the body and spreads to the brain.
- In 2012, an estimated 22,910 new cases of brain and other nervous system cancers will be diagnosed in the United States.
- During 2012, brain cancer will claim the lives of an estimated 13,700 Americans.
- In Texas, an estimated 1,582 new brain and other nervous system cancer cases will be diagnosed, and 956 Texans are expected to die from the disease in 2012.
- In children, brain and spinal cord tumors account for approximately 27 percent of childhood cancers, the second most common cancers (behind leukemia).
- The likelihood an individual will be diagnosed with a malignant tumor of the brain is less than 1 percent.
Most brain tumors have no known causes and known risk factors are few.
- Radiation: Exposure to radiation therapy to the head increases the risk of developing a brain tumor.
- Immune System Disorders: Compromised immune systems have a higher chance of developing lymphomas of the brain, including AIDS, Epstein-Barr virus, or having an organ transplant.
- Family history: A small percentage of brain tumors develop in people with a family history of brain tumors, or genetic syndromes.
Symptoms and Signs
Brain cancer varies with each individual. People with these symptoms should consult their physician:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Changes in speech, vision, or hearing
- Memory loss
- Disorientation and confusion
- Problems walking or changes in balance
- Changes in behavior or personality
- Gradual movement or sensation loss in an extremity
Tips for Prevention
There are no known ways to prevent developing primary brain cancer. However, in adults, certain lifestyle changes, such as maintaining a healthy weight or quitting smoking, are believed to decrease the risk of developing the disease.
Treatment for brain cancer is determined by the type, size and location of the tumor, and your overall health. Brain tumors can be very difficult to treat; therefore, many patients require a team of physicians to monitor their care that might include a neurologist, a radiation oncologist, a medical oncologist, and an endocrinologist.
Surgery is the main treatment for brain tumors if located within the membranes covering the brain or in an area where removal would not damage the surrounding areas. In other cases, tumors are located near sensitive areas in the brain, making surgery risky.
Several other treatments may be used, such as radiation therapy, radiosurgery, chemotherapy, or targeted drug therapy. A combination of treatments may be used to provide the best chance of disease control.
Source: American Cancer Society, National Brain Tumor Society, National Cancer Institute, Texas Cancer Registry, and U.S. National Library of Medicine