Patient Journey: Brain Tumor

Profile of Neurosurgeon Dr. Raab, an expert in brain tumor surgery and treatments

A brain tumor is an abnormal growth of cells that develops in or around the brain tissue. Brain tumors may be malignant (cancerous) or benign (noncancerous). There are many different types of central nervous system (CNS) tumors that can develop in the brain, including gliomas, meningiomas, schwannomas, and pituitary tumors.

Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics (CNSO) is New Jersey’s most comprehensive brain and spine center. Here, our medical team explains the typical journey of a patient who has a brain tumor.

Types of Brain Tumors

There are more than 100 different types of brain tumors. Some are primary, meaning they originate in the brain, while others are secondary, which means they develop somewhere else in the body and spread to the brain. This is also known as a metastatic brain tumor.

The most prevalent type of malignant brain tumor is a glioma. These develop in the glial cells of the central nervous system. Types of gliomas include:

A few other notable types of brain tumors include:

  • Meningiomas: These are intracranial tumors that usually are benign and develop in the meninges, the protective membrane that surrounds the brain.
  • Pituitary adenomas: These are benign tumors that usually grow slowly and do not spread, but they can affect the body’s normal hormone production.
  • Schwannomas: These tumors are fairly rare and develop in the Schwann cells that protect the nerves.

Brain Tumor Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of a brain tumor will depend on the tumor’s size, how fast it is growing, and where it is located in the brain. Common symptoms of brain tumors can include:

  • Headaches
  • Seizures
  • Vision or hearing problems
  • Dizziness, nausea, or vomiting
  • Difficulty with balance or coordination
  • Unexplained behavioral or personality changes
  • Weakness, numbness, or pins-and-needles sensations
  • Difficulty speaking or processing language
  • Memory loss
  • Fatigue

In some cases, small or slow-growing brain tumors may not cause any symptoms, or symptoms may develop slowly over time.

Brain Tumor Risk Factors

It is not clear what causes brain tumors, but genetic or environmental factors may play a role. Risk factors for brain tumors may include:

  • Inherited conditions: Certain genetic conditions, such as Von Hippel-Lindau disease and Li-Fraumeni syndrome, can increase the likelihood of developing a brain tumor.
  • Radiation exposure: Prolonged exposure to ionizing radiation can increase the risk of brain tumors.
  • Cancer: Some forms of cancer are likely to spread to the brain from other parts of the body, such as melanoma and lung cancer.
  • Age: Brain tumors are more common among children and older adults than young adults and middle-aged people.
  • Environmental exposures: Patients who are exposed to certain chemicals, such as agricultural workers who spray pesticides, may have a higher risk of brain tumors.
  • Sex: In general, men are more likely than women to develop brain tumors.

There also may be a link between head trauma and certain types of brain tumors.

How Are Brain Tumors Diagnosed?

If a patient is exhibiting symptoms of a brain tumor, their provider typically will begin with a review of their medical history and a physical examination. They may perform a neurological exam, which checks for changes in hearing, vision, reflexes, balance, and coordination. To aid in diagnosis and rule out other conditions, they will use imaging tests such as:

  • Computed tomography (CT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS)
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan

In addition to imaging, a provider also may perform a biopsy as a standalone procedure or during surgery to remove the tumor. A biopsy may be required to definitively diagnose the type of tumor and confirm if it is malignant.

What Are the Treatment Options for Brain Tumors?

Treatment for brain tumors varies depending on the patient’s overall health, the tumor type, and the symptoms it is causing. Possible treatment options include:

Brain Surgery

Brain surgery may be the first course of treatment if the tumor can be removed safely without damaging the surrounding brain tissue. The process of surgically removing a tumor may be described as excision or resection. A neurosurgeon typically performs a craniotomy to remove a brain tumor, using traditional (open) surgery or minimally invasive techniques.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses high doses of X-ray beams to shrink and kill tumor cells. Some patients are treated with stereotactic radiosurgery, such as Gamma Knife treatment. This uses a high dose of concentrated radiation to target the tumor without exposing healthy brain tissue.

Chemotherapy

This is a drug treatment that kills cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be administered as a pill, injection, or intravenous (IV) treatment. Some patients receive chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or a combination of the two after brain surgery to kill off any remaining tumor cells.

Other treatment options for brain tumors include targeted therapy and immunotherapy. In some cases, tumors that are benign and very small may simply require ongoing monitoring, especially if they are not causing any symptoms.

Choose CNSO for Expert Care

Patients who have been diagnosed with a spine or brain tumor can find advanced care at Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics (CNSO). The board-certified neurosurgeons at CNSO have extensive experience treating a wide range of tumors, including:

  • Astrocytoma
  • Brain meningioma
  • Choroid plexus tumors
  • Clival tumors
  • Craniopharyngioma
  • Ependymoma
  • Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM)

CNSO takes a compassionate approach to care throughout the patient journey, using minimally invasive treatments where possible, and giving ample consideration to the psychological, pain control, pain management and physical therapy aspects of patients with brain tumors. The team at CNSO includes neurosurgeons, orthopedic spine surgeons, interventional pain management physicians, physiatrists, rehabilitation specialists, and certified physical therapists who work in collaboration to ensure appropriate care. CNSO has multiple locations throughout northern New Jersey and offers telemedicine services so that patients can access convenient care. To learn more or schedule an appointment, contact CNSO today.

Centers for Neurosurgery Spine & Orthopedics