What is Malignant brain tumour (cancerous)?

A malignant brain tumour (cancerous) is a tumour that has spread from its original site to other parts of the body.

As cancer cells spread to other parts of the body, they can form new tumours in the new locations.

If the cancerous tumour is limited to the brain, it is called a primary brain tumour.

If the cancerous tumour spreads to other parts of the body (metastases), it is called a secondary brain tumour.

The primary brain tumours are further classified based on the type of cell affected.

These are:

  • Astrocytoma (a tumour of the astrocytes, a type of glial cells)
  • Glioblastoma multiforme (a tumour of the glial cells)
  • Meningioma (a tumour of the meninges, the membrane that surrounds the brain and spinal cord)
  • Olfactory neuroblastoma (a tumour of the olfactory nerves)
  • Oligodendroglioma (a tumour of the oligodendrocytes, a type of glial cell)

What are the risk factors for malignant tumours?

The risk factors for developing a malignant brain tumour are not completely understood.

However, research has shown that the following factors may increase the risk of a malignant brain tumour:

  • Smoking
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Exposure to certain chemicals (such as benzene)
  • Being exposed to a high dose of radiation
  • Being born with a genetic disorder
  • Having an inherited mutation (such as BRCA1 or BRCA2)

Other risk factors for developing a malignant brain tumour include:

  • Being over the age of 60 years.
  • Having existing medical conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease
  • Having a family history of brain tumours
  • Having had chemotherapy
  • Having had radiation to the head

What are the symptoms of a malignant brain tumour?

The symptoms of a malignant brain tumour depend on the type of tumour and where the tumour is located.

They may include:

  • Headaches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Speech difficulties
  • Personality changes
  • Changes in mood
  • Paralysis

A brain tumour may also cause confusion and memory loss.

How is a malignant brain tumour diagnosed?

A malignant brain tumour is diagnosed based on the type of brain tumour, where it is located, and its symptoms.

A doctor will:

  • Ask you about your medical history, including any history of cancer or any treatment you have had for cancer
  • Perform a physical exam
  • Order a series of imaging tests, such as an MRI scan or CT scan, to view the brain and diagnose the type of brain tumour
  • Order lab tests to check for signs of cancer
  • Order other tests to check for any other conditions

Some of the tests doctors use to diagnose a brain tumour include:

  • Biopsy. This involves removing a sample of tissue and examining it under a microscope to see if the tumour cells are cancerous.
  • Blood tests. These check for signs of cancer, such as protein levels, hormones, or anaemia.
  • CT or MRI scan. These are imaging tests that can provide a better view of the brain and surrounding tissues.
  • Lumbar puncture. This involves inserting a needle into the spinal canal to remove a sample of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) for lab testing.

These tests will usually be performed by a radiologist. They are also known as neuro-imaging or neuro-radiologists.

What are the treatment options for a malignant brain tumours?

The treatment options for a malignant brain tumours depend on the type of tumour, the location and extent of the tumour, and your general health.

The treatment options may include:

  • Surgery. This involves removing the tumour and the surrounding tissue.
  • Chemotherapy. This involves using drugs to stop the tumour from growing.
  • Radiotherapy. This involves using high-energy rays (like X-rays) to kill tumour cells.
  • Targeted therapy. This involves using drugs to attack the cells that cause the tumour to grow.
  • Immunotherapy. This involves using drugs to stimulate the immune system to attack and destroy the tumour cells.

The treatment options will be discussed with you by the doctors who are involved in your care.

How does a doctor treat a malignant brain tumours?

If a malignant brain tumours is diagnosed, your doctor will work with you to plan your treatment.

Depending on the type of brain tumour, your treatment may involve:

  • Surgery to remove the tumour or the tumour and the surrounding brain tissue
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Immunotherapy

How long does it take to recover from a malignant brain tumours?

For most brain tumours, treatment can cure the tumour and improve your symptoms.

However, it can take a few months to recover from a brain tumour.

Some of the symptoms you may experience while recovering from a brain tumour may include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Confusion

What is the takeaway?

The risk of developing a malignant brain tumours increases with age.

It is important that you take care of your health, especially if you are over the age of 60 years. This includes getting regular medical check-ups.

If you have a family history of cancer, it is important to tell your doctor. This includes cancer that is caused by inherited genes.

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