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Brain Tumours

Brain tumours are created when cells in your brain grow in an abnormal and uncontrolled way.

Adults and children can get brain tumours.

Types of Brain Tumour

There are different types of brain tumour, the most common types are describe as below.

Gliomas

These are the most common type of brain tumour. They grow from glial cells, which support the nerve cells in your brain.

Meningiomas

About one in five brain tumours in adults is a meningioma. These tumours start in the layers of tissue that cover your brain (the meninges) and are more often benign.

Pituitary Tumours

About one in 10 brain tumours develops in the pituitary gland – a gland in your body that produces natural chemicals called hormones. These are called adenomas and are usually benign.

Medulloblastomas

Medulloblastoma usually develops in the cerebellum, which is at the back of your brain. It rarely affects adults but is the most common brain tumour in children.

Symptoms of Brain Tumours

The exact symptoms you’ll have will depend on the size of the tumour and the location in your brain.

Symptoms you can get include:

  • headaches – these are often worse at night and early in the morning but may wear off as the day goes on
  • feeling sick or vomiting
  • blurred vision
  • seizures (fits) – you might lose consciousness
  • problems walking
  • feeling weak on one side of your body
  • problems with speaking, your sight, hearing, or your sense of smell

Diagnosis of Brain Tumours

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and examine you. They’ll do some tests to assess your reflexes, co-ordination, muscle strength, memory and vision too.

You might need to have some more tests to confirm if you have a brain tumour, and to find out what type you have.

  • Blood tests – to check for specific markers in your blood.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan – this uses magnetic waves to produce images of the inside of your brain.
  • Computerised tomography (CT) scan – this uses X-rays to make a three-dimensional image of your brain.
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG) – this uses electrodes that are attached to your scalp to record your brain activity to look for anything unusual.

Treatment of Brain Tumours

Different brain tumours develop in different ways. Your treatment will vary. Your doctor will discuss what you the different treatment options and give you advice and information.

Observation

If your tumour is slow-growing and you don’t have many symptoms, you might not need any treatment right away.

Surgery

The aim of surgery is to remove as much of the tumour as possible.

You may be able to have open surgery, which is called a craniotomy, or keyhole surgery. This will depend on the type of brain tumour you have, as well as its size and position. If you have a pituitary tumour, your surgeon may be able to remove it through your nose, which is called transsphenoidal surgery.

Non-surgical treatment

Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy uses a targeted beam of radiation to destroy your tumour while aiming to minimise any damage to your surrounding healthy tissue. You usually have radiotherapy after surgery to kill any remaining tumour cells, but sometimes you can have it as an alternative to surgery.

You may have radiotherapy everyday over two to six weeks, or as a single very highly focused treatment called radiosurgery. Another name for this type of radiotherapy is stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) or stereotactic radiotherapy (SRT), which you might hear called cyberknife or gamma knife treatment.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses medicines to destroy cancer cells. Only a few chemotherapy medicines work for brain tumours. The ones that are most commonly used are temozolomide, or a combination of, or just one of, the medicines procarbazine, lomustine and vincristine.

You might have chemotherapy on its own or in combination with other treatments. Temozolomide tablets are often used alongside radiotherapy to treat brain tumours called glioblastomas. You might also have this treatment if your tumour comes back after having other types of chemotherapy.

When your surgeon removes your tumour, they might put small implants called wafers into the affected area of your brain. These will release chemotherapy medicines to kill any remaining cancer cells.

Steroids

Steroids are hormones (chemicals) that your body makes to help reduce swelling. Synthetic (man-made) steroids can help to reduce swelling from your brain tumour, surgery or radiotherapy.