The brain is a soft, spongy mass of tissue. It is protected by:
The brain directs the things we choose to do (like walking and talking) and the things our body does without thinking (like breathing). The brain is also in charge of our senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell), memory, emotions, and personality.
A tumor is a mass of tissue that's formed by an accumulation of abnormal cells. Normally, the cells in your body age, die, and are replaced by new cells. With cancer and other tumors, something disrupts this cycle. Tumor cells grow, even though the body does not need them, and unlike normal old cells, they don't die. As this process goes on, the tumor continues to grow as more and more cells are added to the mass.
Many different types of brain tumors exist. Some brain tumors are noncancerous (benign), and some brain tumors are cancerous (malignant). Brain tumors can begin in your brain (primary brain tumors), or cancer can begin in other parts of your body and spread to your brain (secondary, or metastatic, brain tumors).
How quickly a brain tumor grows can vary greatly. The growth rate as well as location of a brain tumor determines how it will affect the function of your nervous system.
Brain tumor treatment options depend on the type of brain tumor you have, as well as its size and location
Primary brain tumors emerge from the various cells that make up thebrain and central nervous system and are named for the kind of cell in which they first form. The most common types of adult brain tumors are gliomas and astrocytic tumors. These tumors form from astrocytes and other types of glial cells, which are cells that help keep nerves healthy.
The second most common type of adult brain tumors are meningeal tumors. These form in the meninges, the thin layer of tissue that covers the brain and spinal cord.Signs and symptoms of a brain tumor mainly depend on the size of the tumor and its location. The time of symptom onset depends in many cases on whether the tumor is benign or malignant, and in many cases is also related to the change in the nature of the neoplasm, from slow-growing, late-symptom-onset benign to faster-growing, early-symptom-onset malignant.
Symptoms of both primary and secondary brain tumors can be divided into three main categories:
Primary brain tumors can be either malignant (contain cancer cells) or benign (do not contain cancer cells). A primary brain tumor is a tumor which begins in the brain. If a cancerous tumor which starts elsewhere in the body sends cells which end up growing in the brain, such tumors are then called secondary or metastatic brain tumors. This discussion is focused on primary brain tumors.
A benign brain tumor may be present for some years and be asymptomatic. Others might present ambiguous and intermittent symptoms like headaches and vomiting or weariness and so be mistaken forgastrointestinal disorders. In these cases secondary symptoms need to be looked into.
Epidemiological studies are required to determine risk factors.Aside from exposure to vinyl chloride or ionizing radiation, there are no known environmental factors associated with brain tumors. Mutations and deletions of so-called tumor suppressor genes, such as P53, are thought to be the cause of some forms of brain tumor. Inherited conditions, such as Von Hippel–Lindau disease, multiple endocrine neoplasia, and neurofibromatosis type 2 carry a high risk for the development of brain tumors.
Although studies have not shown any link between cell phone or mobile phone radiation and the occurrence of brain tumors, the World Health Organization has classified mobile phone radiation on theIARC scale into Group 2B – possibly carcinogenic.
Human brains are surrounded by a system of connective tissue membranes called meninges that separate the brain from the skull. This three-layered covering is composed of (from the outside in) the dura mater ("hard mother"), arachnoid mater ("spidery mother"), and pia mater ("tender mother"). The arachnoid and pia are physically connected and thus often considered as a single layer, the pia-arachnoid. Between the arachnoid mater and the pia mater is the subarachnoid spacewhich contains cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). This fluid circulates in the narrow spaces between cells and through the cavities in the brain called ventricles, to nourish, support, and protect the brain tissue. Blood vessels enter the central nervous system through the perivascular space above the pia mater. The cells in the blood vessel walls are joined tightly, forming the blood–brain barrier which protects the brain from toxins that might enter through the blood. Tumors of the meninges aremeningiomas and are often benign.
The brains of humans and other vertebrates are composed of very soft tissue and a gelatin-like texture. Living brain tissue has a pink tint in color on the outside (grey matter), and nearly complete white on the inside (white matter), with subtle variations in color. Three separate brain areas make up most of the brain's volume:
These areas are composed of two broad classes of cells: neurons and glia. These two types are equally numerous in the brain as a whole, although glial cellsoutnumber neurons roughly 4 to 1 in the cerebral cortex. Glia come in several types, which perform a number of critical functions, including structural support, metabolic support, insulation, and guidance of development.
Primary tumors of the glial cells are called gliomas and often are malignant by the time they are diagnosed.
The pons in the brainstem is a specific region that consists of myelinated axons much like the spinal cord. The thalamus and hypothalamus of the diencephalon also consist of neuron and glial cell tissue with the hypophysis (pituitary gland) and pineal gland (which is glandular tissue) attached at the bottom; tumors of the pituitary and pineal gland are often benign. The medulla oblongata is at the start of the spinal cord and is composed mainly of neuron tissue enveloped in Schwann cells and meninges tissue. The spinal cord is made up of bundles of these axons. Glial cells such as Schwann cells in the periphery or, within the cord itself, oligodendrocytes, wrap themselves around the axon, thus promoting faster transmission of electrical signals and also providing for general maintenance of the environment surrounding the cord, in part by shuttling different compounds around in response to injury or other stimulus.
Most of the brain is separated from the blood by the blood-brain barrier (BBB), which exerts a restrictive control as to which substances are allowed to pass. Therefore, many tracers that reach tumors in the body very easily would only reach brain tumors once there is a disruption of the BBB. Thus the disruption of the BBB, which can be detected by a MRI and CT, is regarded as the main diagnostic indicator for malignant gliomas, meningiomas, and brain metastases.
Although there is no specific or singular clinical symptom or sign for any brain tumors, the presence of a combination of symptoms and the lack of corresponding clinical indications of infections or other causes can be an indicator to redirect diagnostic investigation towards the possibility of an intracranial neoplasm. Brain tumors have similar characteristics and obstacles when it comes to diagnosis and therapy with tumors located elsewhere in the body. However, they create specific issues that follow closely to the properties of the organ they are in.
The diagnosis will often start by taking a medical history noting medical antecedents, and current symptoms. Clinical and laboratory investigations will serve to exclude infections as the cause of the symptoms. Examinations in this stage may include the eyes, otolaryngological (or ENT) and electrophysiological exams. The use of electroencephalography (EEG) often plays a role in the diagnosis of brain tumors.
Swelling, or obstruction of the passage of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from the brain may cause (early) signs of increased intracranial pressure which translates clinically into headaches, vomiting, or an altered state of consciousness, and in children changes to the diameter of the skull and bulging of the fontanelles. More complex symptoms such as endocrine dysfunctions should alarm doctors not to exclude brain tumors.
A bilateral temporal visual field defect (due to compression of the optic chiasm) or dilatation of the pupil, and the occurrence of either slowly evolving or the sudden onset of focal neurologic symptoms, such as cognitive and behavioral impairment (including impaired judgment, memory loss, lack of recognition, spatial orientation disorders), personality or emotional changes, hemiparesis, hypoesthesia, aphasia, ataxia, visual field impairment, impaired sense of smell, impaired hearing, facial paralysis, double vision, or more severe symptoms such as tremors, paralysis on one side of the body hemiplegia, or (epileptic) seizures in a patient with a negative history for epilepsy, should raise the possibility of a brain tumor.
Medical imaging plays a central role in the diagnosis of brain tumors. Early imaging methods—invasive and sometimes dangerous— such as pneumoencephalography and cerebral angiography have been abandoned in favor of non-invasive, high-resolution techniques, especially magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans. Neoplasms will often show as differently colored masses (also referred to as processes) in CT or MRI results.
This is because these tumors disrupt the normal functioning of the BBB and lead to an increase in its permeability. However, it is not possible to diagnose high- versus low-grade gliomas based on enhancement pattern alone.
The definitive diagnosis of brain tumor can only be confirmed by histological examination of tumor tissue samples obtained either by means of brain biopsy or open surgery. The histological examination is essential for determining the appropriate treatment and the correct prognosis. This examination, performed by a pathologist, typically has three stages: interoperative examination of fresh tissue, preliminary microscopic examination of prepared tissues, and follow-up examination of prepared tissues after immunohistochemical staining or genetic analysis.
Tumors have characteristics that allow determination of malignacy and how they will evolve, and determining these characteristics will allow the medical team to determine the management plan.
Anaplasia or dedifferentiation: loss of differentiation of cells and of their orientation to one another and blood vessels, a characteristic of anaplastic tumor tissue. Anaplastic cells have lost total control of their normal functions and many have deteriorated cell structures. Anaplastic cells often have abnormally high nuclear-to-cytoplasmic ratios, and many are multinucleated. Additionally, the nuclei of anaplastic cells are usually unnaturally shaped or oversized. Cells can become anaplastic in two ways: neoplastic tumor cells can dedifferentiate to become anaplasias (the dedifferentiation causes the cells to lose all of their normal structure/function), or cancer stem cells can increase in their capacity to multiply (i.e., uncontrollable growth due to failure of differentiation).
Atypia: an indication of abnormality of a cell (which may be indicative for malignancy). Significance of the abnormality is highly dependent on context.
Neoplasia: the (uncontrolled) division of cells. As such, neoplasia is not problematic but its consequences are: the uncontrolled division of cells means that the mass of a neoplasm increases in size, and in a confined space such as the intracranial cavity this quickly becomes problematic because the mass invades the space of the brain pushing it aside, leading to compression of the brain tissue and increased intracranial pressure and destruction of brain parenchyma. Increased intracranial pressure (ICP) may be attributable to the direct mass effect of the tumor, increased blood volume, or increased cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) volume, which may in turn have secondary symptoms.
Necrosis: the (premature) death of cells, caused by external factors such as infection, toxin or trauma. Necrotic cells send the wrong chemical signals which prevents phagocytes from disposing of the dead cells, leading to a buildup of dead tissue, cell debris and toxins at or near the site of the necrotic cells
Arterial and venous hypoxia, or the deprivation of adequate oxygen supply to certain areas of the brain, occurs when a tumor makes use of nearby blood vessels for its supply of blood and the neoplasm enters into competition for nutrients with the surrounding brain tissue.
More generally a neoplasm may cause release of metabolic end products (e.g., free radicals, altered electrolytes, neurotransmitters), and release and recruitment of cellular mediators (e.g., cytokines) that disrupt normal parenchymal function.
Secondary tumors of the brain are metastatic and have invaded the brain from cancers originating in other organs. This means that a cancerous neoplasm has developed in another organ elsewhere in the body and that cancer cells have leaked from that primary tumor and then entered the lymphatic system and blood vessels. They then circulate through the bloodstream, and are deposited in the brain. There, these cells continue growing and dividing, becoming another invasive neoplasm of the primary cancer's tissue. Secondary tumors of the brain are very common in the terminal phases of patients with an incurable metastasized cancer; the most common types of cancers that bring about secondary tumors of the brain are lung cancer, breast cancer, malignant melanoma, kidney cancer, and colon cancer (in decreasing order of frequency).
Secondary brain tumors are more common than primary ones; in the United States there are about 170,000 new cases every year. Secondary brain tumors are the most common cause of tumors in the intracranial cavity. The skull bone structure can also be subject to a neoplasm that by its very nature reduces the volume of the intracranial cavity, and can damage the brain.
Brain tumors or intracranial neoplasms can be cancerous (malignant) or non-cancerous (benign). However, the definitions of malignant or benign neoplasms differs from those commonly used in other types of cancerous or non-cancerous neoplasms in the body. In cancers elsewhere in the body, three malignant properties differentiate benign tumors from malignant forms of cancer: benign tumors are self-limited and do not invade or metastasize. Characteristics of malignant tumors include:
Of the above malignant characteristics, some elements do not apply to primary neoplasms of the brain:
Of numerous grading systems in use for the classification of tumor of the central nervous system, the World Health Organization (WHO) grading system is commonly used for astrocytoma. Established in 1993 in an effort to eliminate confusion regarding diagnoses, the WHO system established a four-tiered histologic grading guideline for astrocytomas that assigns a grade from 1 to 4, with 1 being the least aggressive and 4 being the most aggressive.
The most common primary brain tumors are:
These common tumors can also be organized according to tissue of origin as shown below:[
Tissue of origin
|Astrocytes||Pilocytic Astrocytoma (PCA)||Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM)|
Anaplastic astrocytoma, Astrocytoma, Central neurocytoma, Choroid plexus carcinoma, Choroid plexus papilloma, Choroid plexus tumor, Dysembryoplastic neuroepithelial tumour, Ependymal tumor,Fibrillary astrocytoma, Giant-cell glioblastoma, Glioblastoma multiforme, Gliomatosis cerebri, Gliosarcoma, Hemangiopericytoma, Medulloblastoma, Medulloepithelioma, Meningeal carcinomatosis,Neuroblastoma, Neurocytoma, Oligoastrocytoma, Oligodendroglioma, Optic nerve sheath meningioma, Pediatric ependymoma, Pilocytic astrocytoma, Pinealoblastoma, Pineocytoma, Pleomorphic anaplastic neuroblastoma, Pleomorphic xanthoastrocytoma, Primary central nervous system lymphoma, Sphenoid wing meningioma, Subependymal giant cell astrocytoma, Subependymoma, Trilateral retinoblastoma.
Symptoms of brain tumors vary according to the type of tumor and the location. Because different areas of the brain control different functions of the body, where the tumor lies affects the way symptoms are manifested.
Some tumors have no symptoms until they are quite large and then cause a serious, rapid decline in health. Other tumors may have symptoms that develop slowly.
Other symptoms include:
It's important to keep in mind that these symptoms can be caused by a number of different conditions. Don't assume you have a brain tumor just because you experience some of them. Check with your doctor.
To diagnose a brain tumor, the doctor starts by asking questions about your symptoms and taking a personal and family health history. Then he or she performs a physical exam, including a neurological exam. If there's reason to suspect a brain tumor, the doctor may request one or more of the following tests:
The doctor may also ask for a biopsy to determine whether or not the tumor is cancer. A tissue sample is removed from the brain either during surgery to remove the tumor or with a needle inserted through a small hole drilled into the skull before treatment is started. The sample is then sent to a lab for testing.