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A brief about brain cancer

Brain cancer is a severe disease of the brain in which malignant cells overgrow in the brain tissue. Cancer cells grow to form a mass, generally known as brain tumors. These tumors (cancerous tissues) interfere with brain functions such as memory, muscle control, sensation, and other bodily functions.

Some cancer patients develop primary brain tumors that originate from the brain and do not spread to other parts of the body. In contrast, others suffer from metastatic or secondary brain tumors that arise from other body sites and reach the brain. The secondary tumors can be multiple or single and are diagnosed through angiography, biopsy, and nuclear medicine bone scan. Brain cancer experts recommend treatment options to the cancer patients based on each patient’s diagnosis and situation. Unfortunately, cancerous or malignant brain tumors grow very quickly and can be life-threatening.

What are the types of Brain cancer?

1.Astrocytomas

 

Considered as the most common brain tumor, astrocytoma arises anywhere in the spinal cord or brain and develops from star-shaped, small cells called astrocytes. It’s more common in men than the women, and astrocytomas often occur in the largest part of the brain, cerebrum. The cerebrum controls speech movement and emotions, as well as reading, thinking,  learning, and uses sensory information to tell our body how it should respond. The symptoms start to occur as the astrocytomas grow inside the brain, pressing against the tissues.

 

Types of Astrocytomas

 

  • Anaplastic astrocytomas are grade III tumors that grow fast and are hard to remove because of their tentacles like fingers. Doctors in cancer hospitals advise radiation or chemotherapy as these tumors invade neighboring tissues quickly.

 

  • Diffuse astrocytomas are low-grade tumors as they tend to grow slowly. They can be treated with biopsy or surgery. In the case of reoccurrence or inoperable tumors, they are usually treated with radiation.

 

  • Glioblastomas are hard to treat as they are made of different cancer cells and are called grade IV astrocytomas. More than half of astrocytomas are Glioblastomas. These tumors are aggressive and often develop in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain.

 

  • Pilocytic astrocytomas and subependymal giant cell astrocytomas are brain cancer types that are mostly found in children and are grade 1 tumors. They develop in the cerebrum, brain stem, optic nerve pathways, and cerebellum.

 

2.Chordoma

 

Chordoma tumors are generally rare and can metastasize or recur. Skull base chordomas are known as brain tumors as they grow inside the skull toward the brain. Interestingly, they do not develop from brain cells and are part of soft tissue tumors and a group of malignant bone called Sarcomas. Even though they are considered low grade, Chordomas are complicated tumors and challenging to treat due to the involvement of critical structures such as important nerves and arteries.

 

Types of chordoma

 

  • Conventional chordoma is composed of a unique cell type that resembles notochordal cells. They are also called classic chordoma and are the most common form of chordoma.

 

  • The most recently identified subtype of chordoma is poorly differentiated chordoma.  They are faster growing and aggressive than conventional chordoma and are common young adult patients. A pathologist suggests a test of a tumor sample for loss of expression of a protein called INI1 for the diagnosis of poorly differentiated chordoma.

 

  • Differentiated chordoma tends to grow quicker than the other types of chordoma, and is more likely to spread more aggressively than conventional chordoma. This type of chordoma is rare, occurring in pediatric patients.

 

3.Meningiomas

 

Meningiomas (also known as meningeal tumors) develop in the cells of the membrane, covering the brain and the spinal cord. They are usually benign brain tumor and non- cancerous, but can also extend into the bones of the head and face, which can produce visible changes. In most cases, they remain undetected for years and are known as low-grade tumors that are not life-threatening. However, in some cases, brain tumors can cause disability and grow more rapidly.

 

4.Oligodendrogliomas

 

These arise in the cells that make the layer that protects nerves. Mostly common in men than women, they usually grade 1, 2, or 3. Occurring frequently in the frontal or temporal lobes, they usually grow slowly and don’t spread to the neighboring tissue. In the case of a high-grade tumor, surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy is needed.

 

5.CNS Lymphoma

 

Developing in the lymphatic system, CNS lymphoma is a type of brain tumor that is usually found in people whose immune systems are weak. The lymphatic system, in simple words, is a network of small organs called lymph nodes (like blood vessels) that carry a watery fluid called lymph throughout the body. This fluid supplies lymphocytes (cells) throughout the body that fights diseases and infections. The diagnosis of primary CNS Lymphoma is made by CT scanning of many parts of the body. This helps to confirm where cancer is originating from and see how far it has spread.

 

6.Craniopharyngiomas

Craniopharyngiomas grow in the hypothalamus, near the pituitary gland, and in the regions of the optic nerves. Usually benign, they are the metastatic brain tumor that is sometimes considered malignant as they create pressure on the hypothalamus and affect body functions. Often occurring among men and women above 50, they are usually low grade and are often accompanied by a cyst.

What are the symptoms and signs of Brain cancer?

If you ask what are the symptoms and signs of brain cancer, the list is bigger than you think. Potential cancer symptoms and signs are as follows.

 

  • General symptoms – Headache that can be acute or persistent, worsening in the morning. 

 

  • Muscular – Single or multiple muscle twitches, spasms, difficulty walking, instability, muscle weakness, jerks, problems with coordination, weakness of one side of the body, or weakness of the arms and legs

 

  • Gastrointestinal- Nausea or vomiting.

 

  • Full body- Numbness, inflamed or swollen lymph nodes, dizziness, fatigue, or vertigo are the most common brain cancer signs.

 

  • Sensory- Vision change or double vision can be from a tumor in the temporal lobe, occipital lobe, reduced sensation of touch.

 

  • Cognitive- Changes in the emotional state, inability to speak or understand language or mental confusion are also the signs of brain cancer.

 

  • Most common- Blurred vision, aggressiveness, difficulty speaking, personality change, or sleepiness

What are the causes of Brain cancer?

Cancers that can metastasize or spread to the brain and can lead to brain cancer include lung cancer, breast cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, etc. However, the exact cause for the change from normal cells to cancer cells in both metastatic and primary brain tumors is not yet understood. Some environmental factors and genetic conditions may contribute to the development of brain cancer, but several other factors that are brain cancer causes cannot be overlooked.

Research shows that primary brain tumors are less common than secondary brain tumors, in which cancer begins elsewhere in the body and spreads to the brain. In most cases, a brain nodule or a tumor is the result of cancer that began elsewhere in your body like colon, breast, melanoma, etc.

Risk factors involved in Brain cancer

There may not be any definitive causes of brain cancer/ brain tumors, but doctors have identified some factors that increase the risk of brain tumors.

 

Here are some of the major risk factors

 

  • Gender and a genetic link is one of the brain cancer causes
  • Another brain cancer cause is chemical exposure and environmental factors
  • Compromised immune system or previous exposure to radiation

How to prevent Brain cancer?

It is crucial to make necessary changes in your lifestyle and be informed and well aware of this disease if you want to be on the safer side:

 

  • Limit exposure to radiation
  • Ask your family about their medical history
  • Recognize the risk factors as you get older
  • Change your nutritional habits 
  • Try to understand the symptoms of brain cancer
  • Consult a doctor to confirm a diagnosis

Diagnosis of Brain cancer

Treatment of brain cancer is only possible after a proper diagnosis. A brain cancer diagnosis is made using the following methods.

 

 

 

  • Brain cancer Biopsy

 

 

A simple biopsy is a safer option when it comes to surgery. In cases where a full surgical resection of the cancer cells or tissues can be threatening to the neurological function, a biopsy is preferred.

 

Brain cancer biopsy is a procedure of removal of a small amount of the brain tissue that is cancerous. This procedure is part of an operation that helps to evaluate the tumor to develop a treatment plan. For tumors that are in a complex position and are difficult-to-reach, a needle biopsy is performed by doctors of the best brain cancer hospital.

 

 

 

  • Lab tests

 

 

Advanced genomic testing is the main lab test for a brain cancer patient, which analyzes a tumor’s genomic profile to look for DNA alterations that may be the reason behind the growth of cancerous tissues. With a thorough study and identification of changes (mutations) in a cancer cell’s genome, doctors in the best brain cancer hospital try to understand the tumor’s behavior and suggest the brain cancer treatments based on these findings.

 

 

 

  • Nuclear medicine bone scan

 

 

A nuclear medicine bone scan helps to locate a brain cancer lump. Further, it reveals whether the brain cancer has spread to the bone or not. The procedure of the scan is harmless for brain cancer patients. Generally, a small amount of radioactive material is injected into a blood vessel of the patient at the beginning of the test. The radioactive material then travels through the bloodstream, gathers in the bones, and is detected by a scanner through nuclear imaging.

 

 

 

  • Angiography

 

 

Angiography uses X-rays to obtain multiple 3-D images of the blood vessels in the brain that are detailed and clear. An angiography is very crucial while planning the surgical resection of a brain tumor that is located in a complicated position with many blood vessels.

Treatment for various stages of Brain cancer

Brain tumors are generally graded by how normal or abnormal the cells look. With the help of brain cancer staging and grading, doctors get an idea of how fast the tumor may grow and spread. This helps the doctors to curate treatment plans for individual patients after a proper brain cancer diagnosis.

 

Radiation therapy and surgery are two types of treatment of brain cancer (in Craniopharyngioma). In radiation therapy, radiation is delivered either through a machine outside your body or is injected into the tumor inside the brain to kill the cancer cells. 

 

Transsphenoidal surgery and Craniotomy are the two ways of doing surgery. Sometimes these surgeries can cause side effects like bleeding or damage to parts of the brain that can affect certain body functions, but with proper  checkup and recovery plan, curing Craniopharyngioma completely is possible.

 

 

  • Grade 1 brain cancer stage

 

 

Grade 1 or low-grade brain cancer are curable via surgery alone. These low-grade cancers like Pilocytic astrocytoma, Ganglioglioma,  and Craniopharyngioma are least malignant (generally benign brain tumor). In these cases, the cancer cells look normal and grow slowly; however, the long-term survival of patients is likely. They are also non-infiltrative and do not recur in most of the cases.

 

Headaches, regularly feeling sick or vomiting, weight loss, irritability, torticollis (tilt neck or wry neck), is the most common symptom in children who suffer from Pilocytic astrocytoma. Usually diagnosed after a neurological exam and an ophthalmological exam – a CT scan and/or an MRI scan, doctors suggest biopsy if a brain cancer lump or brain tumor is found. The tumor is surgically removed in many cases, although chemotherapy or radiation therapy is advised if surgery is not possible. 

 

Fits (seizures) and headaches that worsen in the morning is the first symptom of Ganglioglioma. They are rare, and when the brain tumor is removed with surgery, the tumor does not grow back and can be referred to as benign or non-cancerous. Recovery is generally fast, and low-grade gangliogliomas can be fully cured with neuro-surgery.

 

Regularly feeling sick or vomiting, excessive thirst, mood changes, trouble walking, late puberty are common symptoms of Craniopharyngioma. Doctors diagnose this type of brain cancer by complete evaluation of your nervous system health – called a neurologic exam. Testing patients’ coordination, reflexes, senses, and thinking ability are  important during this procedure. Other than this, an MRI, blood tests, and biopsy are needed to confirm the diagnosis. 

 

When it comes to expected outcomes and side effects, treatment, and the success rate of this type of brain cancer is high. All the symptoms like effects on coordination and balance, headaches due to tissue swelling, or increased pressure on the brain goes away after surgery. 

 

 

  • Grade 2 brain cancer stage 

 

 

In second-grade brain cancers like Pineocytoma, Diffuse Astrocytoma, and Pure oligodendroglia,  cells look slightly abnormal and tend to grow slowly. Although, tumors like these are somewhat infiltrative and may spread to nearby tissue and can recur later.

 

Physical pain and weakness on one side of the body are commonly seen as the first symptom of Diffuse Astrocytoma. Typically occurring in adults between the ages of 20 and 50, Diffuse Astrocytoma has a slow growth rate, and patients with it survive longer than other types of brain tumors. With the help of continuous EEG recording of the brain’s electrical activity, MRI scans, and CT scans, this type of brain tumor and brain cancer stages are diagnosed.

 

Surgery, radiotherapy, radiosurgery, and chemotherapy are the best brain cancer treatment options available with a high success rate. Some patients suffer from side effects such as local inflammation inside the brain, leading to headaches, which can be treated with oral brain cancer medication. Radiation therapy is suggested after surgery in some cases, to improve the outcome.

 

Pineocytoma is diagnosed with the help of a brain biopsy. Vision abnormalities, coordination problems, etc. are some symptoms of this kind of brain tumor. With surgery to remove the pineocytoma, sometimes radiotherapy is needed for the complete recovery of this brain tumor/ nodule. Fortunately, this type of tumor does not reoccur, and patients get cured easily. 

 

Occurring on the frontal lobe, pure oligodendroglia originate from a glial precursor cell. The symptoms include visual loss, motor weakness and cognitive decline, that mostly depend on the location of the tumor. When it comes to surgery, these tumors cannot be fully resected. Chemotherapy and radiation are among the popular brain cancer treatments suggested by doctors after surgery for better results. Long time survival is reported among pure oligodendroglia patients as they are slow-growing. 

 

 

  • Grade 3 brain cancer

 

 

Grade 3 brain cancers like Anaplastic astrocytoma, Anaplastic ependymoma, and  Anaplastic oligodendroglioma are highly malignant and infiltrative.  The cancerous cells look abnormal and grow actively into nearby brain tissue. These tumors also tend to recur and can develop into a grade 4 brain cancer easily. 

 

Depressed mental status, seizures, and focal neurological deficits are initial symptoms of  Anaplastic astrocytoma. With the help of radiation therapy, patients can get a higher life expectancy, but different types of paralysis, speech impediments, vision problems, etc. often occur even after the available treatments.

 

Developing from a tissue of the central nervous system, ependyma, ependymoma tumors can cause severe headache, drowsiness, visual loss, and problems like impaction/constipation. Loss of appetite, temporary inability to distinguish colors, difficulty sleeping, uncontrollable twitching, temporary memory loss, and seeing vertical or horizontal lines when in bright light are among other symptoms that must not be ignored. With surgical resection followed by radiation therapy, this kind of brain tumor can be treated. 

 

From seizure, visual loss, motor weakness, and cognitive decline, Anaplastic oligodendroglioma has symptoms like other brain cancers. An MRI, CT scan, and biopsy are crucial for the final diagnosis of these stages of brain cancer. As a high-grade brain tumor, oligodendrogliomas cannot be entirely removed and are not completely curable by surgical excision. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are often suggested even after the surgery is done to improve survival rate. 

 

 

  • Grade 4 brain cancer signs 

 

 

Grade 4 brain cancers are malignant brain tumors, widely infiltrative, and Necrosis prone. Typically, in 4th-grade brain cancers like Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), Pineoblastoma, Medulloblastoma, and Ependymoblastoma, the cancerous cells are aggressive, spread quickly, and look abnormal. 

 

The symptoms of GBM depend on the size and the location of the Glioblastoma multiforme. Over time as the brain tumor grows, patients can see increasing signs of mental dysfunction, persistent headaches, other symptoms such as swollen lymph nodes, vomiting, etc. With neurologic evaluation and examinations, including a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, a chest X-ray, or a computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan, doctors find how much the tumor has spread. The brain cancer survival rate is high with chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Research is going on new forms of chemotherapy and  Stereotactic radiosurgery for better treatment of GBM in the future.

 

Positional dizziness and nystagmus, migraines, and facial sensory loss or motor weakness are the initial symptoms of Medulloblastoma. This form of brain tumors is rapidly growing tumors that spread fast to different locations along the surface of the brain and spinal cord. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are used as part of the treatment, while surgical removal of the maximum part of the tumor is necessary for disease-free survival.

 

Other than clinical treatments, physical therapy like exercise and meditation for regaining lost motor skills, occupational therapy, speech therapy, lifestyle changes can help brain cancer patients to get back to their normal daily activities. With relaxation exercises, music therapy, and other interactive treatments, patients can get back to normal shape, and can definitely make their self-healing process faster.

Life in remission

Targeted therapies, brain cancer screening, along with combined therapies, are playing a great role in the success rate of various cancer treatments. Particularly for brain cancer patients, the survival rate of patients has drastically increased over the last few years. 

 

Remission can be partial when tests show you still have some cancer cells in your body, but most of them are killed off with the best brain cancer treatment available today. And then there is complete remission when brain cancer survivors are completely cured, with X-rays and MRIs showing no sign of tumor after treatment.

 

Popular treatments that help patients to get into remission

 

  • Brain cancer survival rate has increased with the help of drugs used in chemotherapy or targeted therapies. 
  • Radiation therapy is done in every cancer hospital today with a high success rate.
  • Surgery is a great option 
  • Hormone therapy 
  • Immunotherapy is designed to boost your key immune cells to fight against the growing cancerous cells.

 

Unfortunately, in high-grade brain cancers, recurrence is still a possibility, and with regular brain cancer screening and tests, your doctor makes sure that the brain cancer doesn’t recur. Further more, there are several side effects that brain cancer patients suffer from even in remission.

 

  • Side effects of Chemotherapy 

 

The weakening of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy) and problems with heart rhythm (arrhythmia) is common after chemotherapy. After years of strong chemotherapy, patients can have severe hair fall. The long-term use of chemo can affect fertility and cause weakness and fatigue among patients. Weight gain is another fairly common side effect.

The good news is that the effects are usually temporary and can be managed with adequate rest; doctors advise medications and staying positive. 

 

 

  • Side effects of radiation therapy

 

 

Radiation can sometimes damage normal brain cells in a cancer patient. This can cause temporary side effects in brain cancer survivors that resolve after a few months. Possible side effects are muffled hearing, fatigue, skin irritation that goes away by itself. However, long term effects like seizures because of damage to the healthy brain tissues, developing second cancer near the radiation field, damage to the pituitary gland leading to fertility problems in both men and women are also reported.

 

 

  • Depression after treatment

 

High-dose brain cancer medication can cause severe side effects.  A brain cancer survivor goes through both mental and physical pain during the recovery process. Unfortunately, even after treatment, mental fatigue and depression do not go away easily. With proper counseling and support from family, patients can recover quickly.

How can ZenOnco.io help?

At ZenOnco.io, our aim is to improve the quality of life of cancer patients with individualized fitness, nutrition, and psychology programs. Brain cancer healing journey is definitely painful, but other than medical treatment, here are some wellness practices that can help you to manage brain cancer and come out of it much stronger.

 

  • Nourish yourself – Eating a healthy diet with lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to strengthen your immunity is important. Small changes in your diet like anti carcinogenic food and recipes can help you to fight the disease more than you think. Besides, talk to your onco-nutritionist and stay at a healthy weight.

 

  1. Stay fit yourself- Exercise regularly, try out yoga, quit smoking for a better life expectancy, skip the alcohol to keep yourself fit.

 

  • Stay calm- With deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, muscle relaxation meditations, and guided imagery and visualization, you can ease anxiety, boost your immune system, and manage the side effects of brain cancer. 

 

  • Cancer-proof your home- Reduce exposure to toxins, use chemical-free cleaning supplies, environmental-friendly furniture, and stay away from radiation. By making simple changes in what you use in your daily life can reduce the risk of brain cancer smartly. 

 

  • Get community support- Manage stress or join a cancer survivor support group for motivation. Research and gain knowledge about the new treatment options available and get connected with doctors, caregivers, and wellness programs. 

Visit our website to know more about our wellness practices and community support programs, and keep yourself focused and informed to win in this battle against cancer.