Brain Tumors: Overview, Diagnosis and Treatment

What Causes a Brain Tumor?

1a-300x197-1A brain tumor is formed when a cluster of cells in the brain start to grow irregularly. Like other tumors, brain tumors may be cancerous or benign.

Little is known about what causes brain tumors. Most appear as genetic mutations. A few rare inherited syndromes also cause brain tumors and prior radiation to the brain can also play a role. Some brain tumors develop when cancer from other parts of the body spreads, or metastasizes, to the brain.

Symptoms of a Brain Tumor

Symptoms of a brain tumor may vary depending on where the tumor is located. Some symptom may include:

  • Balance problems
  • Difficulty thinking clearly
  • Headaches
  • Loss of hearing, sight or speech
  • Memory loss
  • Mood changes
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Seizures

Diagnosing a Brain Tumor

If there are symptoms of a brain tumor, a doctor will perform a physical exam and go through the symptoms and health history. He or she may check balance, coordination, reflexes, and hearing and sight. If the doctor suspects a brain tumor, he or she will refer a neurologist who specializes in brain tumors.

Brain tumor specialists diagnose a brain tumor with imaging tests such as a CT or MRI scan. They may take a tissue biopsy, or sample, in order to examine the cells in detail.

Brain Tumor Treatment at Tenet Health

Treatment for a brain tumor depends on the tumor’s location, the kind of tumor (rapidly spreading or benign) and overall state of health. Often, the doctor will recommend a combination of treatments.

For some slowly moving or stable tumors, doctors may recommend watchful waiting.

Surgery for brain tumors is often possible. A neurosurgeon makes an opening in the skull, then uses imaging guidance to remove the tumor while sparing as much healthy brain tissue as possible. When it’s not possible to remove all of a tumor, surgeons may also operate to remove part of it before chemotherapy or to relieve pressure buildup inside the skull. This may help ease some of the symptoms of the brain tumor.

Chemotherapy may be used to shrink brain tumors or slow their growth.

Radiotherapy may also be used to shrink a tumor or eliminate tumor cells that may still exist after surgery. Today, multiple forms of targeted radiotherapy can destroy tumor cells and spare healthy brain cells.

Other treatments for brain tumors include targeted drug therapies based on the particular genetic makeup of the tumor. Doctors may also prescribe medicines to alleviate the symptoms of the brain tumor or replace hormone functions lost during treatment.


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