What is Brain Cancer?

Brain cancer refers to the abnormal growth of cells in the brain causing a tumor. It can be both benign and malignant. Either way, the growth of the tumor is very fast, leading to a condition called space-occupying lesions (SOL). They disrupt the way our body works since the brain controls all the functions, and it can be eventually life-threatening.

How Common is Brain Cancer?

The chances of a person developing a malignant tumor of the brain or spinal cord in his or her lifetime are less than 1%. The risk for men (about 1 in 143) is slightly higher than that for women (about 1 in 185). There are a few types of brain tumors that are more common in women.

What are the Causes and Risk Factors of Brain Cancer?

The exact cause of brain cancer is unknown. However, a genetic mutation can be one of the causes. Some of the risk factors include:

  • Cancer in other parts of the body that can metastasize and spread to the brain
  • Brain cancer gets more common with age
  • Long-term smokers are at higher risk of brain cancer
  • Exposure to pesticides, insecticides and fertilizers increases the risk factor
  • Working with cancer-causing elements like rubber, plastic, petroleum, lead and some textiles can make one more prone to brain cancer
  • Having an Epstein-Barr virus infection, or mononucleosis can cause brain cancer

What are the Symptoms and Complications of Brain Cancer?

The symptom of brain cancer depends on the location and the size of the tumor. Some common symptoms are:

  • Headaches that worsen in the morning
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Drowsiness or frequent blackouts
  • Personality changes
  • Abnormal eye movements
  • Difficulty in thinking
  • Memory lapses
  • Vision problems
  • Speech problems
  • Muscle twitching
  • Muscle jerking
  • Tingling in the arms and legs
  • Seizures/ convulsions
  • Lack of balance
  • Lack of coordination
  • Difficulty walking

How Is Brain Cancer Diagnosed?

It is diagnosed in the following ways:

  • CT scan with contrast helps in identifying the size and location of the tumor
  • MRI helps to know the extent of tumor and condition of surrounding brain tissue

How Is Brain Cancer Treated?

  • Surgery: Surgery is the most common treatment for brain cancer. As the brain tumor is SOL, which is encased in a bony box of the skull, this increases the intracranial pressure as the lesion grows. Hence, surgical resurrection is the main way of management of brain tumor. Sometimes, only a part of the tumor can be removed due to its locations. There are some cases where the tumor is inoperable, which means that it is located in a sensitive area of the brain that can’t be accessed.
  • Chemotherapy and Radiation therapy: Chemotherapy drugs may be given to destroy cancer cells and shrink them. These drugs are either given orally or intravenously or intracranially.

Radiation therapy may be given along with it to destroy the cancer cells that cannot be removed surgically. It involves using high energy waves. Sometimes, both the treatments are done together and it few other cases, they may be done simultaneously.

  • Biological drugs: Sometimes, biological drugs are prescribed to boost, restore or direct the body’s natural defenses against the tumour.
  • Clinical trials: Clinical trials are medical researches that are still in the testing phase. Sometimes, in the advanced levels of tumours, clinical trial therapies and medicines may be used.
  • Palliative care: Palliative care is given to patients in advanced stages. The focus is on pain management and giving them a life of quality. Attempts are made to relieve the symptoms of the disease rather than treating the disease itself.

What are the Complications of Brain Tumour?

Complications depend upon the location of the tumor:

  • Loss of function in some of the body parts leading to paralysis of one or more limbs or loss of bowel movement.
  • Loss of vision or hearing if the tumor is located near the optic or auditory nerve respectively.
  • Loss of higher functions like memory etc.
  • Loss of speech
  • Convulsions or seizures

What are the Lifestyle Changes Needed to Manage Brain Cancer?

  • Quit smoking: Smoking increases the risk of cancer relapse and makes recovery slow. It is better to kick the butt and switch to healthier habits
  • Eat well: Food is an important source of energy and nourishment for the body. Eating healthy, nutritious meals will boost immunity, increase energy and elevate mood. It will also make recovery faster.
  • Exercise: Exercising regularly, even if for 30 minutes a day, strengthens the immune system and reduces the time of recovery. Start with low impact exercises.
  • Meditate and de-stress: Cancer is a difficult disease, hard on both the body and mind. Doing yoga, or meditating every day can help you heal mentally and help you to de-stress.
  • Rest well: It is important to listen to your body and not push it when you are recuperating. Rest when the body needs to.
  • Seek support: Join online forums or support groups to seek emotional support. IT will help you stay motivated and help in healing.

How Can You Take Care of Someone with Brain Cancer?

  • Help them with their doctor’s visits and chemotherapy sessions
  • Ensure they eat well and exercise daily
  • Be there for them and show love and support
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