What is a Brain Tumor?
A brain tumor is the growth of abnormal cells in the brain. When most normal cells grow old or get damaged, they die, and new cells take their place. Sometimes this process goes wrong; new cells form when the body does not need them, and old or damaged cells do not die as they should. The buildup of extra cells often forms a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor.
What are benign Brain Tumors?
Benign brain tumors do not contain cancer cells and thus are termed non-cancerous:
- Usually, benign tumors can be removed, and they seldom grow back.
- Benign brain tumors typically have an obvious border or edge. Cells from benign tumors rarely invade tissues around them and do not spread to other parts of the body. However, benign tumors can press on sensitive areas of the brain and cause serious health problems.
- Unlike benign tumors in most other parts of the body, benign brain tumors are sometimes life-threatening.
- Benign brain tumors may also become malignant.
Doctors group brain tumors by grade. The grade of a tumor refers to the way the cells look under a microscope. Benign brain tumors fall under grade I, where the cells appear similar to normal brain cells, and they grow slowly.
There are many types of benign brain tumors. Meningioma is the most common type. This tumor arises in the meninges, the membranes that line the skull and spinal canal. It can be grade I, II, or III. It is usually benign (grade I) and grows slowly. Women are at higher risk of developing a meningioma. Symptoms may not appear until the tumor has become large. Some common symptoms of a meningioma include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Personality changes
- Vision and speech problems
- Hearing loss or ringing in the ears
- Weak muscles
Often these symptoms are not due to a brain tumor, and another health problem could be the cause. If you have any of these symptoms you should tell your doctor so that any issues can be diagnosed and treated.
Diagnosis of Benign Brain Tumors
If you have symptoms that suggest a brain tumor, your doctor will give you a physical examination and explore your personal and family health history.
You may have one or more of the following tests:
- Neurologic Exam
- CT Scan
- Spinal Tap
Treatment for Benign Brain Tumors
Treatment of benign brain tumors is similar to the treatment for other brain tumors, except for the use of chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is not the choice of treatment for treating benign brain tumors. The choice of treatment depends mainly on the following:
- Its location in the brain
- Its size
- Your age and general health
You and your health care team can work together to develop a treatment plan that meets your medical and personal needs.
Sometimes observation is the best treatment for benign tumors. Routine observation of the tumor with MRI scans every year is necessary until the symptoms or growth necessitate surgery.
Brain surgery (craniotomy) with surgical removal of the tumor and/or radiation therapy are the main treatments for benign brain tumors.
Radiation Therapy Treatment
Radiation therapy kills brain tumor cells with high-energy x-rays, gamma rays, or protons. Radiation therapy usually follows surgery. The radiation kills tumor cells that may remain in the area. Sometimes people who cannot have surgery have radiation therapy instead.
Doctors use external and internal types of radiation therapy to treat brain tumors. The benefits of radiation therapy are not obtained immediately but happen with time. As for benign tumors, in which the cells divide slowly, it may take months to show any effects.
Tumor location, size, and type are considered when deciding the type of surgery to perform. Surgery to remove a lesion in the brain is called a craniotomy. This is “open” brain surgery, requiring removal of part of the skull bone to access the brain tissues.
Minimally invasive brain surgery may also be an option depending on your particular circumstances. This is performed with an endoscope through the nose (endonasal), or through a tiny incision above the eye, in order to remove the brain tumor. The endoscope is a special lighted instrument that sends images back to a computer for the surgeon to view internal structures and use tiny instruments to remove the tumor. Your healthcare team will discuss all options with you prior to surgery.
- A craniotomy is performed in the hospital operating room with the patient under general anesthesia. The scalp is shaved where the incision will be made into the skull. You may be awake for the surgery but will feel no pain.
- The surgeon removes as much of the tumor as possible. You may be asked to move a leg, count, say the alphabet or tell a story. Your ability to follow these commands helps the surgeon protect important parts of the brain.
- The surgeon makes an incision in your scalp over part of the skull and the skin is pulled back. A drill is then used to place holes in the bone at various points.
- The surgeon then uses a special type of saw to cut the bone between the holes to remove a piece of bone from the skull.
- The brain tumor is located through the use of imaging studies and is removed. Your surgeon will remove as much of the tumor as safely possible without harming surrounding structures.
- After the tumor is removed, a drain is placed, and the surgeon covers the opening in the skull with the piece of bone or with a piece of metal or fabric.
- The drain removes any excess blood from the surgery. The surgeon then closes the incision in the scalp.