Brain Tumors in Adults
What Is a Brain Tumor?
A brain tumor is an abnormal growth of cells inside the skull. Tumors may grow from the brain cells, the blood vessels in the brain, the nerves that come from the back of the brain, or the membranes that cover the brain. There are many types of tumors in the brain. Some can be treated with surgery alone while others may need radiation and chemotherapy. Although some tumors grow more slowly, all brain tumors are dangerous because they push on the brain. Some tumors can spread to the spine, but they rarely go elsewhere in the body.
Most Common Types of Brain Tumors
• Meningioma • Astrocytoma (or glioma)
• Glioblastoma • Pituitary Tumor
• Vestibular schwannoma
What Are the Symptoms of a Brain Tumor?
Symptoms depend on the size and the location of the tumor in the brain and can be caused by tumor growth or swelling (cerebral edema) in the brain.
- repeated headaches which are worse in the morning
- nausea or vomiting
- mental changes (sluggishness or drowsiness)
- uncoordinated or clumsy movements
- new or worsening weakness or numbness in the arms or legs
- gradual problems with vision, speech, hearing, or concentration
- memory loss
- a noted change in behavior
How Are Brain Tumors Diagnosed?
The bones of the skull hide brain tumors. Your doctor or nurse cannot feel or see them during a routine check-up. Instead, he or she will need to obtain a complete health history and perform a neurological exam. Other tests listed below might be needed as well.
- Computerized Axial Tomography (CAT or CT) scan of the head
- Magentic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan of the head
- Angiography (x-ray of the blood vessels in the brain)
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
- Brain Biopsy: a sample of the tumor is obtained during surgery and studied uner a microscope and can provide an exact diagnosis.
How Are Brain Tumors Treated?
Surgery is the treatment of choice for tumors which can be removed without causing severe brain damage. The goal is to remove all of the tumor that can be seen. Based on the type and place of the tumor, you may be treated with surgery alone or combined with radiation, chemotherapy, steroids, or a combination of these treatments.
The most common way to remove a brain tumor is a craniotomy. The doctor makes an incision into the scalp. A piece of bone is removed to expose the area of the brain over the tumor. After the tumor is removed, the bone is replaced and the skin is closed.
Radiation Therapy (x-ray treatment)
Many tumors are radiosensitive. This means that the tumors die when exposed to radiation. This treatment is given over several weeks.
Chemotherapy refers to several medicines which can be given as a pill or an intravenous (IV) infusion or an injection under the skin (SubQ). Chemotherapy acts by killing cells that divide rapidly (tumor cells). Tumor cells are affected more than the healthy cells.
Steroids (e.g. Decadron or Dexamethasone)
Steroids control the swelling often seen with brain tumors.
Who to Call with Questions
If you have a question or a concern, please call your neurosurgeon or nurse practitioner.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 11/08/2013
Copyright © 11/08/2013 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#6268
Print Health Fact For You