Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Tests For Diagnosing Brain Cancer

Submitted on March 27, 2012

The term 'Brain cancer' usually invokes a considerable amount of fear in just about anyone, mainly because the brain controls the rest of the body. Cancer in the brain can be a result of an abnormal growth in the brain cells. Any sort of growth in the brain is referred to as a brain tumor, but it is important to bear in mind that not all of them are cancerous. Some tumors that are found in the brain can be benign, which means that they are not cancerous. Brain cancer occurs in case a malignant brain tumor is present.

When a malignant tumor is formed in the brain, it grows and spreads quite aggressively. Over a period of time, the cancerous cells overpower the healthy ones, by taking up their blood, space and nutrients. Just like the other cells in the human body, cancer cells require nutrients and blood to grow. This causes a problem in the brain, because the additional growth within the small space of the skull could lead to increased intracranial pressure. The growth of the cancer cells in the brain may also cause distortion of the surrounding vital tissues, due to which they malfunction.

You are probably aware of the fact that your brain is made up of different cells. Certain types of brain cancer can occur when one cell type in the brain starts mutating. Soon after that, the mutated cells grow and multiply in an abnormal manner. Over a period of time, these abnormal cells amass together, forming a malignant tumor in the brain.

In case the brain tumor is a result of mutated or abnormal cells in the brain, your doctor will refer to it as a primary brain tumor (as it has originated from the brain). Some of the most common types of primary brain tumors include gliomas, pituitary adenomas, meningiomas, medulloblastomas and vestibular schwannomas. If the brain tumor results from cancerous cells that are present in other parts of the body, it is referred to, as metastatic or secondary brain tumor.

Studies indicate that brain tumors affect around 1 in every 5,000 people living in the US.

Tests Recommended

Your health care provider may advise you to go in for a series of tests to determine if you are suffering from brain cancer or not. Certain brain cancer tests also help the doctor identify which stage the cancer is in. Given below are some of the common brain cancer tests that may be recommended by a doctor:

  • CT scan of the brain, which is quite similar to an x ray, though the images show the details more clearly, as they are in 3-dimension. At times, a harmless dye may also be injected into the patient's bloodstream, so that any abnormalities can be easily highlighted in the CT scan.
  • Brain cancer patients usually suffer from other medical problems too, which need to be identified and addressed as soon as possible. For this purpose, the doctor may order routine lab tests, which include blood analysis, a blood coagulation profile, liver function test and electrolytes analysis.
  • In case a patient mainly experiences metal changes as the main brain cancer symptom, urine tests and blood tests may be conducted, to rule out the possibility of drug use.
  • The most commonly recommended brain cancer test is the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), as it has a high sensitivity for detecting if a tumor is present or not, as well as the characteristics of a tumor. However, since many health institutions do not have MRI scanners, they use CT scanners to test a patient for tumors.

In case the CT scan or the MRI reports indicate that there is a brain tumor present, the patient will have to consult a brain specialist or a neurosurgeon. An important part of the diagnosis is a biopsy, where a tissue sample is studied under a microscope, to determine the type and grade of the tumor.


Researchers and doctors are still not sure what the exact causes of brain cancer are or the reasons why some people develop the condition, whereas others don't. Given below are some of the possible brain cancer causes that could trigger off the condition in various people:

  • Radiations: People who have undergone a lot of radiation to the head area may be at a high risk of malignant brain tumors. This could also apply to those individuals who talk on their cell phones for several hours each day. Mobile phones emit radio waves that are usually absorbed by the tissues closest to the place where the phone is held.
  • Genetics: This condition could occur in people because of genes that have been inherited. You are at a higher risk of developing brain cancer if any of your parents, siblings or other family members suffered from this disease in the past.
  • Weakened immune system: Several conditions, like HIV infection, affect the functioning of the immune system, because of which the body cannot prevent the cancer cells from growing and taking over.
  • Smoking: It is a well-known fact that cigarette smoking is one of the leading causes of cancer in most people. Habits like smoking cigarettes on a regular basis or even excess exposure to cigarette smoke could lead to brain cancer.
  • Environmental toxins: Several people are exposed to toxic material present in the environment, such as the chemicals used in oil refineries and the rubber manufacturing industry or embalming chemicals.

At times, a combination of the factors mentioned above could lead to brain cancer in a person. Unfortunately, in most cases, doctors find it difficult to identify the causes of the disease in a patient. It has been seen that brain cancer can also affect those people who have no family history of the condition, do not smoke and lead a healthy lifestyle.


Detecting a tumor in the brain can be a bit of a challenge at least in the initial stages, as not all of them lead to symptoms. Moreover, brain cancer symptoms are numerous, but most of them are not specific to the condition, which means that they can occur in case of other illnesses too. Given below are some of the common brain cancer symptoms that can affect people:

  • Severe headaches which could be ongoing or may come and go.
  • Weakness on one side of the body or abnormal gait, accompanied by depending upon the type and location of the tumor.
  • Persistent nausea and/or vomiting, especially during the early hours of the morning.
  • Oral, visual and hearing disturbances such as difficulty while speaking, blurred or double vision and loss in hearing abilities.
  • Altered mental status, which could include problems with memory, slower thought process, a decline in alertness and lack of attention.
  • Drowsiness, lethargy, fatigue or increased sleep.
  • Difficulty in walking properly.
  • Seizures.

Many people who are suffering from brain cancer undergo severe personality changes, where they lose their confidence and become nervous very fast. Patients suffering from brain cancer may also experience a gradual change in their emotional and intellectual capacity.

If you experience even one or two of the above mentioned symptoms, you should waste no time in consulting a doctor. Certain brain cancer symptoms are a lot more serious than the others and therefore should be addressed by a medical expert immediately. Do seek emergency medical attention, in case you happen to notice any of the symptoms given below:

  • Seizures
  • Significant fluctuations in mental state, like excess drowsiness, memory loss or inability to focus
  • Changes in vision or other sensory organs
  • Difficulty in speaking or walking
  • Behavioral and personality changes
  • Nausea and/or vomiting, especially in elderly people


Even though brain cancer treatment is a highly complex procedure, it should be individualized for each patient. This is because a patient's age, medical history and overall health need to be taken into account, before suggesting the best form of treatment. Factors such as the tumor type, size, grade and location should also be taken into account when recommending brain cancer treatment.

One of the first steps in brain cancer treatment is surgery, to remove the tumor. Most surgeries are performed under the influence of general anesthesia. However, in most cases, it is not possible to remove all the cancerous cells even through surgery. Therefore, patients may need to go through radiation therapy, as well as chemotherapy for a few weeks or perhaps even months, after surgery, to keep the cancer cells from spreading and taking over the brain.

Several people ask doctors if brain cancer can be treated with the help of natural and herbal remedies. However, there are no clinical studies to prove that herbs are effective in the treatment of cancer.

Brain cancer is a very serious condition, which can be fatal, if not checked and treated in time. Therefore, it is absolutely essential to ensure that the condition is closely monitored by a team of medical experts at regular intervals.