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World-Class Neurosurgery

What is a Brain Tumor? 

Tumors which arise from the brain or spine coverings are considered primary brain tumors. Metastatic brain tumors have spread from cancer in other parts of the body, most frequently from the lungs, breast and colon. There are many different types of brain tumors, based on what cells are affected and how they appear under a microscope. Tumors can be classified into four general categories: 

  • Gliomas -These tumors occur in the glial cells, which help support and protect critical areas of the brain. Gliomas are the most common type in adults, responsible for approximately 42 percent of all adult brain tumors. 
  • Meningiomas -These tumors affect the meninges, the tissue that forms the protective outer covering of the brain and spine. One-quarter of all brain and spinal tumors are meningiomas, and up to 85 percent of them are benign. Meningiomas can occur at any age, but the incidence increases significantly in people over age 65. Women are twice as likely as men to have meningiomas. They generally grow very slowly and often don’t produce any symptoms. 
  • Acoustic Neuroma / Schwannomas -Schwann’s cells are found in the sheath that covers nerve cells. Vestibular schwannomas, also known as acoustic neuromas, arise from the 8th cranial nerve, which is responsible for hearing. Specific symptoms of vestibular schwannoma include buzzing or ringing in the ears, one-sided hearing loss and/or balance problems. Schwannomas are typically benign and respond well to surgery. 
  • Medulloblastoma -This a common brain tumor in children, usually diagnosed before the age of 10. Medulloblastoma occurs in the cerebellum, which has a crucial role in coordinating muscular movements. Tumors grow quickly and can invade neighboring portions of the brain, as well as spreading outside the central nervous system. Medulloblastoma is slightly more common in boys. 

Brain tumors can be benign or malignant 

Benign brain tumors do not contain cancer cells. Usually, benign tumors can be removed, and they seldom grow back. The border of a benign brain tumor can be clearly seen. Cells from benign tumors do not invade tissues around them or 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. Very rarely, a benign brain tumor may become malignant. 

Malignant brain tumors contain cancer cells. Malignant brain tumors are generally more serious and often are life threatening. They are likely to grow rapidly and crowd or invade the surrounding healthy brain tissue. Very rarely, cancer cells may break away from a malignant brain tumor and spread to other parts of the brain, the spinal cord, or other parts of the body. Sometimes, a malignant tumor does not extend into healthy tissue. The tumor may be contained within a layer of tissue. Or, the bones of the skull or another structure in the head may confine it. This kind of tumor is called encapsulated. 

Doctors group brain tumors by grade - from low grade (grade I) to high grade (grade IV). The grade of a tumor refers to the way the cells look under a microscope. Cells from high-grade tumors look more abnormal and generally grow faster than cells from low-grade tumors. 

What are the risk factors? 

Research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop a brain tumor. The following risk factors are associated with an increased chance of developing a primary brain tumor: 

  • Being male - In general, brain tumors are more common in males than females. 
  • Race - Brain tumors occur more often among white people than among people of other races. 
  • Age - Most brain tumors are detected in people who are 70 years old or older. However, brain tumors are the second most common cancer in children. Brain tumors are more common in children younger than eight years old than in older children. 
  • Family history - People with family members who have gliomas may be more likely to develop this disease. 

What are the symptoms of brain tumors? 

The symptoms of brain tumors depend on tumor size, type, and location. Symptoms may be caused when a tumor presses on a nerve or damages a certain area of the brain. They also may be caused when the brain swells or fluid builds up within the skull. The most common symptoms of brain tumors include: 

  • Headaches (usually worse in the morning) 
  • Nausea or vomiting 
  • Changes in speech, vision, or hearing 
  • Problems balancing or walking 
  • Changes in mood, personality, or ability to concentrate 
  • Problems with memory 
  • Muscle jerking or twitching 
  • Numbness or tingling in the arms or legs 

These symptoms are not sure signs of a brain tumor. Other conditions also can cause these problems. If you are experiencing these symptoms, please see a doctor as soon as possible. 

What are the treatment options? 

Your doctor may recommend surgical resection, stereotactic radiation, stereotactic radiosurgery, or chemotherapy. 

  • Surgical resection is a surgical procedure to remove part of an organ or gland. It may also be used to remove a tumor and normal tissue around it.
  • Stereotactic radiation is a type of external radiation therapy, and uses special equipment to position the patient and precisely deliver radiation to a tumor. The total dose of radiation is divided into several smaller doses given over several days. Stereotactic radiation therapy is used to treat brain tumors and other brain disorders. It is also being studied in the treatment of other types of cancer, such as lung cancer. 
  • Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) treats brain disorders with a precise delivery of a single, high dose of radiation in a one-day session. Through the use of three-dimensional, computer-aided planning and a high degree of immobilization, the treatment can minimize the amount of radiation that passes through healthy brain tissue. Focused radiation beams are delivered to a specific area of the brain to treat abnormalities, tumors or functional disorders. 
  • Chemotherapy is a general term for any treatment involving the use of drugs to stop cancer cells from growing. It is designed to kill cancer cells and can be administered through a vein, injected into a body cavity, or taken orally in the form of a pill, depending on which drug is used. It works by destroying cancer cells. The downside is that it does not differentiate between a cancer cell and some healthy cells. In turn, this treatment affects not only the fast-growing cancer cells but also other fast-growing cells in your body, including, hair and blood cells. 

Clinical Trials 

In the past, clinical trials were thought of as last resort. Today, patients with common cancers often choose to receive their first treatment in a clinical trial because evidence shows that patients who participate in clinical trials often benefit more than those who do not. 

Through the Scottsdale Healthcare Research Institute, patients with advanced or rare forms of cancer now can participate in early-phase clinical trials. 

Learn more about clinical trials

To help you decide if you should participate in a clinical trial, here is some information you should understand: 

  • What clinical trials are 
  • Why clinical trials are important 
  • The phases of clinical trials
  • The benefits of participating in a clinical trial
  • The risks of participating in a clinical trial
  • Your rights and responsibilities while participating in a clinical trial 
  • Who regulates and sponsors clinical trials
  • The current clinical trials available at the Scottsdale Healthcare Research Institute 
  • Clinical trial frequently asked questions

Eligible cancer patients who consent to participate in a clinical trial [link to Participate in a Clinical Trial] study will receive treatment coordinated by the Scottsdale Healthcare Research Institute, located in the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center. The treatment team may include research physicians, research nurses, data managers and community oncologists. For additional information about clinical trials available through the Scottsdale Healthcare Research Institute, contact the Patient Care Coordinator at 480-323-1339 (toll free: 1-877-273-3713), or e-mail clinicaltrials@shc.org

If you’d like more information about brain tumors or the doctors and services available at Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn Medical Center, please call 480-323-3000.