By: Mahiyan Chakrabarti
Authored by Dr. Amit Halder, Director of Neurology, Fortis Hospital, Anandapur, Kolkata where he describes that, a brain tumour is a mass or growth of abnormal cells in the brain. They can occur across all age groups. They can arise from the brain, or they can spread from other areas of the body to the brain. They can be broadly classified as benign or malignant.
A benign or non-cancerous brain tumour grows relatively slowly in the brain. On the other hand, malignant tumours are cancerous and can spread rapidly.
If brain tumours begin in the brain, they are called primary tumours. A person is said to have a secondary or metastatic tumour if the tumour starts in another part of the body and then spreads to the brain. Either way, both need to be treated on time, otherwise, they can be potentially life-threatening.
It is essential to understand the symptoms, that not all cases of brain tumours will be symptomatic at the outset. For instance, meningiomas, one of the most common forms of brain tumour, grow so slowly that they might not have symptoms until they are large enough to compress or invade the underlying brain parenchyma.
Some symptoms which are often ignored but can be related to brain tumours include, headache that can be acute, resistant, or new-onset. A chronic headache may show an abrupt change of character. Motor symptoms, that include difficulty in walking, muscle weakness, problems with coordination, weakness of one side of the body, dizziness or dimness of vision or double vision or hearing symptoms or swallowingproblems, gastrointestinal symptoms including nausea or intractable vomiting with headache and blurred vision might indicate raised intracranial tension, cognitive impairment like a change of personality, inability to speak or understand language or mental confusion may result in a delay in diagnosis.
Tumors of the pituitary gland can present with only hormonal changes, at other times, the first presentation may be dramatic with a tonic-clonic convulsion with frothing from the mouth.
Each brain tumour case is different, and every person who has the condition might react differently depending on their health history and tumour location. For example, a brain tumour in the cerebellum at the back of the head may cause impairment in body movement, walking, balance, and coordination. On the other hand, if the tumour is affecting the optic pathway of the person, it can affect their vision and sight. A benign tumour situated in the anterior part of the brain can result in personality changes (like mood swings). These symptoms sometimes tend to get misdiagnosed, so an expert medical team is needed to diagnose such cases correctly based on history and examination.
Since most brain tumour symptoms seem non-specific, they are often ignored and mistaken for more common disorders like headache, depression, gastritis or dementia. An individual’s prognosis depends on the size and nature of their tumour and how quickly it is detected. In case one is experiencing any of these symptoms, one should seek medical attention at the earliest.
Radiological advancement (Computerized Tomography, Magnetic Resonance Imaging) in the last three decades has made the smallest of tumors identifiable. Early diagnosis may make some of the tumors resectable.
The take-home message is to seek medical help early. Earlier the diagnosis, smaller is the size of the lesion. The smaller the lesion, the better the outcome. An expert team of doctors that includes a neurologist, neurosurgeon, pathologist and an oncologist will be able to chart out an individualized treatment plan. A cure should be the treatment goal. If a cure is not possible, palliative therapy can go a long way in reducing the suffering.