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Brain tumors

A brain tumor is a group of abnormal cells. There are many types of brain tumors, including those which are benign (non-cancerous) and malignant (cancerous). Brain tumors can start in the brain or can spread to the brain from cancer in a different area of the body. In either case, brain tumors require personalized treatment based on the type and location of the tumor.

What causes a brain tumor?

It's not always clear what causes a brain tumor, but family history and environmental factors may play a role. Brain tumors occur when cells mutate and begin to multiply, resulting in a mass. When tumors are cancerous, the multiplication of cells can take place very quickly.

What are brain tumor symptoms?

Symptoms of a brain tumor vary depending on tumor type, location and size. General signs include:

  • Headaches that increase in frequency and intensity
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulties talking, hearing or seeing (including blurred vision, double vision or loss of peripheral vision)
  • Confusion
  • Shifts in personality or behavior
  • Seizures
  • Loss of feeling or movement over time in arms or legs

What are types of brain tumors?

There are many types of brain tumors, although certain types tend to form more often than others. These include:

  • Glioblastoma - Glioblastoma tumors are fast growing and cancerous. Treatment often focuses on slowing their growth and managing symptoms.
  • Brain metastases - When cancer spreads to the brain from other parts of the body, these types of tumors are known as brain metastases. Lung cancer, breast cancer, kidney cancer and melanoma are common cancers that travel to the brain.
  • Meningioma - Many meningiomas are non-cancerous. These tumors grow from lining around the brain and spinal cord.
  • Acoustic neuroma - This type of tumor is non-cancerous and grows on nerves that connect the inner ear and brain. Because of where they grow, acoustic neuroma tumors often cause difficulties with balance and hearing.
  • Pituitary tumors - Most pituitary tumors are non-cancerous. They often affect hormones throughout the body.

How is a brain tumor treated?

There are many ways to treat a brain tumor, some of which are more effective than others. For example, a benign tumor may be able to be removed with surgery. A glioblastoma, which is cancerous and often quickly spreads into surrounding brain tissue, commonly requires a combination of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and/or innovative medications like Optune.

To provide the best possible outcome, treatment plans are tailored to patients' specific needs and preferences. Common recommendations may include one or more of the following:

  • Surgery - Surgery is one of the most common treatment methods. However, sometimes a tumor is located in an area of the brain that cannot be reached by surgery, making it an "inoperable" tumor.
  • Radiation - If a tumor or parts of a tumor cannot be surgically removed, radiation may be used to treat the cancer. Radiation treats cancer cells with high-energy waves.
  • Chemotherapy - Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be given by mouth in pill form or through the vein.
  • Immunotherapy - Special drugs known as biologics work to help a person's immune system better recognize cancer and improve the body's ability to naturally fight cancer.
  • Other medications and devices - Other innovative methods of brain cancer treatment may be prescribed, such as Optune for glioblastoma treatment. Optune is a wearable, portable device that delivers continuous treatment to the location of the glioblastoma. The device creates low-intensity electric fields, called Tumor Treating Fields (TT Fields). These fields help slow or stop glioblastoma cancer cells from dividing and may destroy some of them.

Watch a video about Optune

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Every day, Gundersen Health System staff deliver great medicine plus a little something extra—we call it Love + Medicine.

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