A brain tumor is a mass of abnormal cells that grow in the brain. Brain tumors are categorized as malignant (cancerous) or benign (noncancerous). Fewer than one-third of brain tumors are malignant.
Brain tumors are further categorized as primary or secondary (metastatic):
- Primary brain tumors are tumors that start in the brain. Certain changes, or mutations, occur in the genes of a cell or group of cells in the brain, allowing cells to multiply faster and stay alive when normal cells would die. The result is a growing mass of abnormal cells that form a tumor.
- Secondary brain tumors occur in people who have cancer elsewhere in their body and it spreads (metastasizes) to the brain. While any type of cancer can spread to the brain, the most common types include breast, colon, lung and kidney cancers, and melanoma. In adults, metastatic brain tumors are much more common that primary brain tumors.
There are many different types of primary brain tumors; they’re named for the type of cell in which they first form. The most common primary brain tumors that affect adults include:
- Acoustic neuroma: A benign brain tumor that develops on the nerves that control balance and hearing
- Astrocytoma: A type of cancer that forms in star-shaped cells called astrocytes
- Glioblastoma: An aggressive type of brain cancer that is the most common type of malignant brain tumor in adults
- Glioma: A type of tumor that starts in the glial cells of the brain
- Intraventricular tumors: Generally benign tumors found in the ventricles of the brain
- Meningioma: The most common type of tumor that forms in the head; it is usually benign and slow-growing
- Pituitary tumors: Abnormal growths that develop in the pituitary gland
Nearly 80,000 people will be diagnosed with a primary brain tumor this year. The median age at diagnosis for primary brain tumors is 60.
Most brain tumors have no obvious cause. A few factors are known to increase the risk of brain tumors, however, including radiation exposure and a family history of brain tumors or certain genetic cancer syndromes.
Treatment depends on the type of brain tumor, its size and location, as well as your general health and personal preferences. Treatment options may include surgery, radiation therapy, radiosurgery, chemotherapy, and targeted drug therapies that block specific abnormalities in cancer cells.
The symptoms of a brain tumor can vary depending on its size, location and how fast it is growing. It’s important to see your doctor if you have any concerning signs such as persistent or worsening headache, problems with vision, speech or hearing, balance issues, seizures, unexplained nausea/vomiting, behavior changes or confusion.
Why Choose Cooper to Diagnose and Treat Brain Tumors?
Cooper University Health Care is home to an exceptional brain tumor program staffed by a team of highly experienced neuro-oncologists, neurosurgeons, neuro-radiologists, radiation oncologists and pathologists. Our comprehensive clinic offers distinct advantages:
- Partnership with the world-renowned MD Anderson Cancer Center, one of the leading cancer centers in the nation—giving you access to the latest treatment protocols and an unparalleled level of expertise
- A dedicated multidisciplinary team, all in one place—so you can conveniently see all the specialists involved in your care in a single visit
- Leading-edge stereotactic radiosurgery capabilities—in fact, Cooper pioneered this highly precise, non-invasive technique in the Delaware Valley
- Advanced minimally invasive endoscopic techniques—Cooper also pioneered this approach for treating intraventricular and pituitary tumors in this region
- Attending physicians only involved in direct patient care—unlike many teaching hospitals, at Cooper only the most senior doctors are directly responsible for your care and treatment; physicians-in training do not make medical decisions or operate on patients
- A specialized pituitary tumor program—giving you advanced, focused expertise for these complex tumor types
- State-of-the-art neurosurgical operating rooms—with one dedicated to cranial neurosurgery, ensuring that you benefit from the most up-to-date technology
Brain Tumor Causes and Risk Factors
Unfortunately, the cause of most brain cancer is still largely unknown. But there are some factors that may increase the risk of a brain tumor in some people:
- Radiation exposure: While fairly rare, radiation-induced brain tumors can occur in people who received radiation to the head to treat other cancers, particularly children who received radiation to the brain to treat leukemia. It’s important to know that for most patients with other types of cancer involving the head or brain, the benefits of radiation therapy are far greater than the risk of developing a brain tumor years later.
- Genetics: Also rarely, certain brain cancers run in families through what is called a familial cancer syndrome—a type of inherited disorder in which there is a higher-than-normal risk of certain types of cancer. Some inherited disorders linked to brain cancer include neurofibromatosis, tuberous sclerosis, Von Hippel-Lindau disease, and Li-Fraumeni syndrome.
Brain Tumor Symptoms
Brain tumor symptoms can vary a great deal depending on the type of tumor, its size and location, and how fast it is growing. Some general symptoms caused by brain tumors can include:
- Headaches—New in onset, or that become more frequent and/or severe
- Unexplained nausea or vomiting
- Vision problems, such as blurred vision, double vision or loss of peripheral vision
- Problems with balance or hearing
- Speech difficulties
- Confusion about everyday matters
- Loss of sensation or movement in an arm or a leg
- Behavior or personality changes
- Seizures, particularly in someone who’s never had them before
Because the symptoms of a brain tumor may look like other conditions, including stroke, it’s important to seek medical attention right away for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
Treating Brain Tumors
Treatment for a brain tumor is carefully tailored to your unique situation, including the type, size and location of the tumor, your overall health, and your wishes regarding treatment. Today’s options for treating a brain tumor include:
- Surgery: If the tumor is located in a part of the brain that is accessible via surgery, your surgeon will operate to remove as much of the tumor as possible
- Radiation therapy: External beams of X-rays are aimed at the tumor to kill cancer cells and shrink the tumor
- Radiosurgery: A highly precise form of radiation therapy. At Cooper, we use the Gamma Knife for radiosurgery; it focuses intense beams of gamma rays to destroy lesions in the brain while sparing nearby healthy cells, usually in one treatment session.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses powerful drugs to kill cancer cells; it may be given orally or intravenously
- Targeted therapy: This type of treatment targets a tumor’s specific genes, proteins or the tissue environment that helps a tumor grow, blocking its growth and survival while limiting damage to healthy cells