Quick, list the scariest medical conditions! There’s a good chance “brain tumor” cracks your top 10 list.
Recently, the NY Daily News reported that brain tumors can strike anyone at any time, and don’t play favorites. However, the good news is that many benign tumors are actually treatable, and the course of treatment is a lot less invasive than many people imagine.
Dr. Raymund Yong, assistant professor of neurosurgery at Mount Sinai, sat down for an interview. He regularly treats patients with “brain problems,” whether tumors or sports injuries.
With more than a decade of brain treatment under his belt, Yong has seen just about everything. According to a study from the Central Brain Tumor Registry, about 688,000 Americans are diagnosed with a brain tumor every year. Of these, about 140,000 are malignant.
Not all malignant tumors start in the brain; they can spread from a different type of cancer. “Men and women of all ages and races can develop malignant brain tumors,” says Yong. However, children are more likely to develop other types of cancer.
Understanding the difference
Unlike cancer in other parts of the body, malignant v. benign is a little different in the brain. In the brain “some benign brain tumors are curable, but even tumors that are growing very slowly within the brain are considered malignant because the brain is a relatively small and contained space full of vital structures,” Yong says.
It’s relatively easy to cut tumors out of other parts of the body, but it’s much more difficult in the brain. It’s also common to assume that malignant tumors are genetically based, but that’s not necessarily the case: random mutation can and does happen.
According to Yong, lung cancer is the most common type to spread to the brain. Smoking is the biggest risk factor for this cancer, which means smoking can actually lead to a malignant brain tumor.
Even though a person of any age can get brain tumors, the most common age range consists of people in their 50s or 60s. Yong cautions that it’s important to be on the lookout for red flags. Sometimes there are no symptoms at all, or symptoms can come on seemingly overnight.
Most common symptoms
The biggest warning signs are headaches, nausea, vomiting, and symptoms that mirror strokes. Weakness on one side of the body, vision trouble, language issues, and memory loss might all be signs of a brain tumor … or they could be flukes. Difficulties with attention span and concentration might also show up.
Of course, most headaches aren’t the result of a brain tumor, and this has its good and bad sides. On the one hand, it can delay a diagnosis; but on the other, it can be very troubling to those who worry too much when symptoms arise.
The best course of action is to see a doctor whenever something seems “off” — and only you know when that is. An MRI is necessary to diagnose a brain tumor.
“If surgery is possible, in most cases that’s a preferred first step that allows us to decompress the brain, which becomes swollen due to the tumor. In some cases, we recommend a biopsy to see what type of tumor it is,” says Yong. Chemotherapy and radiation are also potential treatments, but they might interfere with the holistic process of healing. Post-surgery, a decision to pursue these treatments is often delayed about six weeks.
A silver lining
Nearly constant breakthroughs are occurring in the field of brain tumor care, and new drugs steadily come on the market. Yong suggests the first question you should ask your doctor if you’re diagnosed with a brain tumor would be: “Is surgery possible for this brain tumor?”
Also ask about additional symptoms to watch for and any side effects to be expected. This can be an understandably frightening time, but medicine and technology are on your side.Powered by Sidelines