Overview – What is it?
Brain cancer refers to cancer that occurs in the brain when cancerous (malignant) cells start to grow in the brain rapidly and uncontrollably. Although the exact cause of this cancer is not known, the risk factors linked to it include long-term radiation exposure, smoking and genetic factors.
The main symptom for this cancer is persistent and severe headaches, however, not all people with brain cancer may experience it. It can be diagnosed through imaging tests and biopsy.
The treatment of brain cancer can be done through surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, among other treatment options.
There is no specific prevention method for this cancer, but you can reduce your risk factors by eating healthy and avoiding radiation exposure, among other things.
Causes – What causes it?
Even though the exact cause of brain cancer is unknown, some risk factors have been linked to increasing the chances for a person to develop this type of cancer. These include:
- Family history: Having a close family member who has or has had brain cancer or other conditions like nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome, increases your risk of developing brain cancer.
- Exposure to environmental toxins: Long-term exposure to harmful substances such as pesticides and chemicals like benzene increase brain cancer risk.
- Radiation exposure: When your head is exposed to radiation for a long period of time, for instance at your work place, you are at an increased risk of developing brain cancer.
- Exposure to infections and viruses: Some viruses such as the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) have been linked to brain tumours and therefore, having such viruses can increase your risk of developing this cancer.
- Head injury and seizures: Experiencing serious head trauma can trigger brain tumour growth.
- Age: Brain tumours are more common in children and older adults; however, they can affect people of all ages.
- Gender: Men are more likely to develop brain tumours than women.
Symptoms – What do you feel?
The symptoms of brain cancer depend on the size of the tumour, its location and the rate of growth. The general symptoms are:
- Persistent headaches which gradually become more frequent and severe
- Nausea and vomiting
- Difficulty with balance
- Muscle weakness
- Blurry vision
- Memory problems
- Changes in speech
- Hearing problems
- Reduced sensation or movement in an arm or leg
- Personality change
- Paralysis of some body parts
Diagnosis – How do you diagnose it?
After the initial doctor’s consultation during which the doctor finds out your medical history, your symptoms and your family history, other tests are done to determine whether you have a brain tumour and if you do, whether the brain tumour is cancerous or benign. These tests are:
- Neurological exam: This test is done to check your vision and hearing, coordination and balance, reflexes and strength, among other things.
- Imaging tests: Using a CT (computerised tomography) or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan to check the brain’s internal structure and give detailed images that can be used in the diagnosis of brain cancer by showing any abnormalities like a mass in the brain.
- Biopsy: The brain tumour is removed through surgery and examined under a microscope to determine whether it is malignant or noncancerous.
Treatment – How do you treat it?
Treatment of brain cancer depends on its location, size and type, and the victim’s age and his or her health status. The treatment options are as follows:
- Surgery: This is done to remove the tumour and some of the healthy tissues surrounding it, after which other treatments may follow.
- Chemotherapy: Uses a combination of anti-cancer drugs to kill the cancer cells, thereby, ending the cancer cells’ ability to grow and divide.
- Radiation therapy: This treatment option involves using high-energy beams to destroy the cancer cells so as to slow down or stop their growth.
- Targeted therapy: It involves using medication to kill the specific cancer cells in the body without causing harm to healthy cells.
- Immunotherapy: Medication is used to trigger the body’s immune system to be aware of the presence of cancer cells in the body and fight them. It is usually used together with other treatments.
Prevention – How do you prevent it?
There may be no specific way to prevent brain cancer, but you can reduce your risk factors by:
- Eating a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
- Getting screened regularly, especially if you are at a high risk of developing brain cancer.
- Getting treatment for conditions that, if not treated, can lead to this cancer.
- Taking preventive measures if you work in a toxic environment.
- Protecting yourself from head injuries by wearing protective head gear, for instance, when playing games like rugby or hockey and being careful when driving to avoid accidents that can cause head trauma.