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What Are The Signs Of A Brain Tumor?

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Signs Of A Brain Tumor

Seizures are often the first reason people visit the doctor fearing brain tumor as the other symptoms like persistent headaches, nausea, fatigue, and vision problems are too generic to suggest a tumor. Because the brain controls different body parts and their various functions, depending on the location of the tumor, patients may experience personality change, memory loss, loss of balance, loss of meaningful speech, and abnormal changes in the body like growth of breasts in men or excessive milk production in women. Symptoms alone aren't sufficient to detect a brain tumor, a CT scan or an MRI is required.

A brain tumor may sound like a scary, even devastating possibility. Basically a growth of abnormal cells in your brain, a brain tumor can be benign – that is, without cancer cells or malignant – with cancer cells.

The symptoms caused by brain tumors are either due to the pressure they put on the brain, medically known as intracranial pressure or ICP, or because they affect the functioning of the part of the brain in which they are located.

Brain tumor symptoms are caused by the pressure they put on the brain or their location. Which is why the symptoms vary from one patient to another.

Since different parts of the brain control different body parts and their functions, the symptoms of brain tumor also differ widely from person to person depending on the location. Catching a tumor early can mean a better shot at a positive outcome, so here are some signs you could watch out for.

1. Seizures: Mostly Partial

Believe it or not, seizures are the commonest symptom of brain tumor, with about 60% patients experiencing them. They occur mostly when the tumors are located in the central part of the brain and have a slow growth rate and many lesions.1 

If you have no history of seizures, you must get it checked by a doctor to rule out the possibility of a brain tumor. About 60% brain tumor patients experience seizure.

They are also common in cases of slowly growing gliomas (tumors in the glial cells surrounding nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord), convexity meningiomas (tumors on the surface of the brain), and when the tumor has started metastasizing or spreading to nearby cells. This means that seizures are common at all stages of the tumor.

Seizures occur suddenly when the tumors interfere with the electric signals between nerve cells, either disrupting them or making them more intense. Depending on the location of the tumor, the seizure can be generalized, affecting the entire body, or partial, resulting in spasms in a specific group of muscles or affecting specific nerves. Partial seizures are probably more common in the initial stages. Some people may notice a warning signal before the seizure occurs in the form of headache, nausea, or dizziness.2

2. Headaches: Inexplicable And Resistant To Medicines

A new persistent headache is a common sign of brain tumor, though not the first sign. About 50% of all brain tumor patients complain of headaches but not usually at tumor onset. Either the tumor puts pressure on the brain or blocks the drainage of the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and raises the ICP, which results in headaches. It’s difficult to differentiate between a tumor-related headache and a normal one you might get because of sinus, flu, or migraine. 

Watch out for a new, persistent headache that is worse when you cough, bend, or sneeze and doesn’t improve with your regular headache medicines.

  • The pain may be throbbing and resemble a migraine or may even be like a tension headache.
  • It was believed that a tumor headache is worst in the morning and gets better within a few hours, but this may not always be the case.3
  • The pain also shoots up when you do something that increases the pressure in your head, say coughing, sneezing, or bending.
  • Over-the-counter medicines, rest, or sleep do not help.
  • It might also be accompanied by nausea and vomiting.4

3. Vomiting: Persistent And Inexplicable

If you feel like throwing up or are actually throwing up without any problem in your digestive system, see if they occur with headaches or a problem in your vision.

Persistent vomiting or nausea, without any apparent reason, especially in the morning or when you change your position, can be a sign of a brain tumor. In a study on 111 brain tumor patients with primary and metastatic tumors, 40% complained of vomiting and nausea.5What this means is that vomiting is a common sign across the various stages of brain tumor. It may be a symptom of a tumor in the cerebellum, although, if it presents without other symptoms, vomiting is often thought to be caused by a problem in the digestive system.

4. Vision Problems: Loss Of Vision Or Double Vision

Seeing floating shapes in front of your eyes, seeing everything double, or losing vision on and off may all indicate tumors in different parts of the brain.

  • Blurred sight, vision loss that comes and goes, or seeing floating shapes, like small dots or thin strands, in front of your eyes can all indicate a tumor.
  • A tumor in the occipital lobe may mean loss of vision in one eye.
  • A tumor in the brain stem may cause double vision.
  • Pituitary tumors or adenomas affecting the optic nerve may lead to loss of field of vision,6 which means your peripheral vision may be affected and you might only be able to see what’s directly in front of you.
  • Sometimes, flickering eyes may also be a sign of a tumor in the cerebellum.

5. Personality Change: Depression Or Aggression

A tumor in the frontal lobe, which controls your personality, can make you behave inappropriately in a certain social situation, like swearing or becoming violent.

Depending on the location and the growth rate of the tumor, your personality traits may change noticeably or subtly. A fast-growing tumor in the frontal lobe can bring about personality changes suddenly, making you feel easily irritated, depressed, and confused. You may even turn aggressive, though you may have had no history of aggressive behavior, and behave in culturally or socially inappropriate ways.7 This is because the frontal lobe is responsible for your personality traits. It also helps you control your emotions and impulses and act in a way appropriate for a certain social situation.

6. Aphasia: Difficulty Speaking Meaningfully

Stuttering, forgetting words, and speaking in meaningless sentences are all signs of aphasia, which can be caused by tumors in the frontal, temporal, and parietal lobes. 

Your brain has two main speech centers: Wernicke’s area in the temporal lobe and Broca’s area in the frontal lobe. While Wernicke’s area helps you understand language and decipher others’ speech, Broca’s area helps in speech production such that you speak meaningfully and fluently. A tumor in any of these lobes can make it difficult for you to hold conversations, as you’d tend to stutter, forget names of objects, struggle to find appropriate words, or even construct meaningful sentences. This difficulty in using and understanding language is known as aphasia.8 You may also have difficulty repeating after others if the tumor is in your parietal lobe and is affecting the inferior parietal lobule, another area associated in speech production and speech repetition.

7. Memory Loss: Recalling Or Registering Information

You may forget objects, people, places, or events before you got the tumor (long-term memory) or forget most information ever since you got the tumor (short-term memory).

A brain tumor, especially in the frontal and the temporal lobes,9 may affect your memory of objects, people, places, or events in your life. The inability to recall any such information before you had the brain tumor is known as retrograde amnesia. You might also not be able to remember anything since the brain tumor developed. This inability to process new information is known as anterograde amnesia.10 Sadly, memory loss may be an effect of the treatment as well.

8. Fatigue: Despite Extra Sleep

You may feel more sleepy than usual but even extra sleep might not cure you of the fatigue and lethargy you feel.

You may experience extreme weariness of the body. It could be because of the seizures, headache, or nausea or because your body is using up most of its energy in fighting the tumor.
Also, as the tumor makes simple everyday tasks a challenge, the extra amount of concentration and effort required to perform them may tire you out. This sense of fatigue is often not cured by sleep or rest, even though as the tumor grows, you might be sleeping more than usual or falling asleep during the day. The tiredness is often accompanied by apathy, irritability, depression, or negative feelings about yourself and others.11

9. Clumsiness: Loss Of Balance And Coordination

Loss of balance, lack of coordination in the limbs, trouble swallowing, and numbness or weakness in one side of the body can be because of brain tumors.

If you are finding it difficult to maintain your balance while walking or having difficulty coordinating your hands and legs, it might be a symptom of brain tumor. This might be caused by a tumor in the cerebellum, the primary motor cortex, or the parietal lobe, all of which are responsible in different ways for the coordination of movements. If your clumsiness can be attributed to numbness or weakness in one side of your body, it might be caused by tumor in the parietal lobe. Patients also have trouble swallowing or speaking due to lesions in the brain stem or frontal lobe.

10. Abnormal Physiological Changes: Large Limbs And Irregular Periods

If your hands and feet are suddenly getting larger, even after you’ve crossed the growth phase, scan for a pituitary tumor.

A tumor in the pituitary gland can cause irregular periods, excessive production of breast milk, development of breasts in men, and excessive body hair. It may also lead to the enlargement of your hands and feet, obesity, and changes in your blood pressure.12 A drooping eyelid or a drooping mouth can indicate a tumor in the brain stem.

Who Gets Brain Tumors?

Most brain tumors develop in people over the age of 50; and if you have a family history of brain tumors or your brain has been exposed to radiation, say, during radiotherapy, you might be at higher risk. Genetic conditions like neurofibromatosis, Turcot syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, von Hippel-Lindau syndrome, Li-Fraumeni cancer syndrome, and Gorlin syndrome are associated with brain tumors that tend to develop in early adulthood or childhood. Malignant brain tumors usually seem to develop when cancer from some other part of the body spreads to the brain. And, sometimes, benign brain tumors can also turn malignant.13

Treatment Options

Do keep in mind that many of the symptoms mentioned here can also be caused by various other conditions. So, there’s no reason to panic. However, it’s a good idea to get checked out by a doctor if you have persistent symptoms that could indicate a brain tumor, just to be sure. Your doctor might do a neurologic exam and tests like a CT scan, an MRI, or a biopsy. Treatment for brain tumors can include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, targeted therapy (where substances that target cancer cells and leave normal cells unharmed are used for treatment), or a combination of these.

References   [ + ]

1. Sperling, Michael R., and James Ko. “Seizures and brain tumors.” In Seminars in oncology, vol. 33, no. 3, pp. 333-341. WB Saunders, 2006.
2. General Information | All About Seizures. The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke 
3, 5. Forsyth, Peter A., and Jerome B. Posner. “Headaches in patients with brain tumors A study of 111 patients.” Neurology 43, no. 9 (1993): 1678-1678.
4. Headaches. American Brain Tumor Association.
6. Pituitary Adenoma Causing Compression of the Optic Chiasm. University of Iowa Health Care
7. Personality Changes and Brain Tumors. The Brain Tumour Charity.
8. Symptoms of a Brain Tumour in Adults. The Brain Tumour Charity.
9. Memory Difficulties and Brain Tumours. The Brain Tumour Charity
10. Memory Problems and Brain Tumours. The Brain Tumour Charity.
11. Fatigue and Brain Tumours. The Brain Tumour Charity.
12. Brain tumor – primary – adults. National Institutes of Health.
13. Causes of a Malignant Brain Tumour. National Health Service.
CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.

CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.