Brain tumour: Cancer Research UK on 'different types' in 2017
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Cancer cells can grow just about anywhere in the body, often spreading rapidly and invading other healthy surrounding tissues. Unlike other cancers, however, those that emerge from brain tissue rarely spread. Their point of origin, and how rapidly they advance, will determine the symptoms a patient experiences.
Brain tumours are generally classed into one of two categories; primary and secondary tumours.
The first originates in brain tissue while secondary tumours spread to the brain from cancer located elsewhere in the body.
The most widely reported symptom in the initial stages of brain cancer is a persistent headache, which often appears in conjunction with other signs.
In fact, headaches typically affect more than half of brain tumour patients and worsen significantly over time.
MORE: Woman credits her newborn son for discovering brain tumour
As many as half of patients also experience seizures at some stage of their disease, but seizures have many other known causes too.
In most cases, these problems arise from growing pressure inside the skull due to a growing tumour.
“The most common symptoms experienced by the patient are often related to tumour location and/or cerebral oedema, which can cause increased intracranial pressure,” according to researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).
These symptoms include drowsiness, headaches, cognitive and personality changes, poor communication, seizures, delirium, focal neurological symptoms and dysphagia.
The institution adds: “Some patients may have several of these symptoms, while others may have none. Some of the factors that influence the presence and severity of symptoms are the tumour’s location and size.”
Progression of the tumour and the degree of swelling it causes are critical determinants in the presentation of brain tumours, but some signs become more common as the disease advances.
“Brain tumour patients tend to develop significant and progressive neurological symptom burden in the final weeks of life,” explains UCSF.
“Drowsiness or loss of consciousness is one of the most frequently reported symptoms in the final weeks of a brain tumour patient’s life.
“Lethargy, confusion, and night/day reversal are often early signs of decreasing levels of consciousness.
“Drowsiness and lethargy progress and tend to increase significantly in the last week of life. Ultimately, the patient passes into a deep coma in the last few days.”
Though brain tumours rarely spread, the more aggressive the tumours the faster they will grow.
Of all the different brain tumours, glioblastomas are understood to be the most aggressive in their behaviour.
Not only do these tumours spread to surrounding brain tissue but they often grow completely undetected by the immune system.
These rapid growth rates, combined with the fact that the masses are not defined by clear borders, make it difficult to remove the entire tumour with surgery.
“Although radiation therapy and chemotherapy can reach the tumours, glioblastoma cells can survive and regrow,” explained MD Anderson Cancer Center.
In a great number of cases a brain tumour will be spotted during a routine visit to a healthcare provider, so getting symptoms checked as soon as they emerge is advised.
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