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What to know about brain cancer

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Rio Grande Cancer Foundation
Rio Grande Cancer Foundation
Rio Grande Cancer Foundation
  Ted Escobedo   5 min read 5 years ago

What to know about brain cancer

Today, an estimated 700,000 people in the United States are living with a primary brain tumor, and over 86,000 more will be diagnosed in 2019. Brain tumors can be deadly, significantly impact quality of life, and change everything for a patient and their loved ones.

Brain cancer can have a wide variety of symptoms. Not all brain tumors are cancerous, and benign tumors can result in similar symptoms.


Common symptoms of brain cancer may include headache, blurred or double vision, hearing loss, nausea or vomiting, memory loss, seizures, muscle weakness, speech difficulty, mood changes, unexplained tiredness, changes in menstrual cycle, impotence or infertility, overproduction or underproduction of breast milk, Cushing’s syndrome (a condition marked by weight gain), high blood pressure and diabetes and bruising. Some patients may not feel right cognitively, or have visual, speech or coordination problems. The symptoms may be subtle or develop gradually.

It’s important to understand that brain cancer symptoms vary depending on the type, extent and location of the tumor, as well as the patient’s age and healthy history, and often mimic those caused by other medical conditions. For example, vision problems may result from a tumor near the optic nerve. A tumor in the front part of the brain may affect the ability to concentrate and think. A tumor located in an area that controls motor function may cause weakness, numbness or difficulty with speech. Any tumor that is significantly large may cause multiple symptoms because of the pressure created by the mass. It’s important to consult a medical professional for an accurate diagnosis.

What is a brain tumor?

A brain tumor 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.

Risk Factors

It is difficult to determine exactly who is at risk for brain cancer but there can be some factors that may contribute to the disease.


Risk for most types of brain tumors increases with age.


Brain tumors in general are more common among Caucasians. However, African-American people are more likely to get meningiomas.

Chemical exposure

Being exposed to certain chemicals, such as those you might find in a work environment, can increase your risk for brain cancer. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health keeps a list of potential cancer-causing chemicals found in work places.

Exposure to radiation

People who have been exposed to ionizing radiation have an increased risk of brain tumors. You can be exposed to ionizing radiation through high-radiation cancer therapies. You can also be exposed to radiation from nuclear fallout. The nuclear power plant incidents in Fukushima and Chernobyl are examples of how people can be exposed to ionizing radiation.

No history of chicken pox

According to the American Brain Tumor Association, people with a history of childhood chicken pox have a decreased risk of getting brain tumors.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms associated with brain cancer or become concerned about a particular risk that you may have been exposed to, a medical professional should be consulted.

What are the symptoms of a brain tumor?

Symptoms of brain tumors depend on the location and size of the tumor. Some tumors cause direct damage by invading brain tissue and some tumors cause pressure on the surrounding brain. You’ll have noticeable symptoms when a growing tumor is putting pressure on your brain tissue.

Headaches are a common symptom of a brain tumor. You may experience headaches that:

• are worse in the morning when waking up

• occur while you’re sleeping

• are made worse by coughing, sneezing, or exercise

You may also experience:

• vomiting

• blurred vision or double vision

• confusion

• seizures (especially in adults)

• weakness of a limb or part of the face

• a change in mental functioning

Other common symptoms include:

• clumsiness

• memory loss

• confusion

• difficulty writing or reading

• changes in the ability to hear, taste, or smell

• decreased alertness, which may include drowsiness and loss of consciousness

• difficulty swallowing

• dizziness or vertigo

• eye problems, such as drooping eyelids and unequal pupils

• uncontrollable movements

• hand tremors

• loss of balance

• loss of bladder or bowel control

• numbness or tingling on one side of the body

• trouble speaking or understanding what others are saying

• changes in mood, personality, emotions, and behavior

• difficulty walking

• muscle weakness in the face, arm, or leg

If you or a loved one experience any of these symptoms it is important to see a physician to examine the most likely causes and determine a plan of action.

Sources:, Web MD,

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