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Brain Tumor Symptoms & Diagnosis

Brain Cancer Symptoms

This depends upon where in the brain the cancer arises, and how big it becomes before coming to medical attention. The brain has particular areas controlling thought, sight, hearing, sensation, movement, coordination and mood. The upper brain area tends to control the more advanced thought functions, while the middle controls mood and movement and the rear (or "brain stem") stimulates breathing and heart rate.

The most common general symptoms of brain cancer are:

Nausea and vomiting.
Imbalance and stumbling.
Weakness in just one portion of the body (generalized weakness is not a symptom).
Sensation changes.
Visual problems - double vision, partial blindness.
Judgment or personality changes.
Growth disturbances - breast enlargement / change in sex drive.
Hallucinations - in vision or hearing.
SIADH - an insatiable desire to drink water, with frequent urination.


Neurological Examination
A tumor simply means a swelling, and isn't necessarily brain cancer. A patient will come to the doctor with symptoms suspicious for a brain tumor, and the physician will perform a neurological examination to check the nerves or the brain which control the eyes and face, check for equal strength and sensation on both sides of the body, coordination and balance, and memory and judgment. He will look into the eyes for signs of increased pressure in the skull, such as swelling of the optic disks.

If a brain tumor is seen suspected or has been seen from a CAT scan the next test ordered is a Magnetic Resonance Image (MRI) scan. It takes about an hour of lying still, is painless. The MRI scan will show if there are any tumors in the brain.

The only way to be absolutely sure of what kind of brain tumor is present is to take a sample (biopsy) of it. Nowadays, biopsies are very safe (less than 1% of patients die from them) and are usually obtained under stereotactic guidance (a fine-needle is exactly placed into the tumor after visualizing it in 3 dimensions). The biopsy material is examined by a pathologist, a doctor who specializes in diagnosing disease from tissue samples. He does special stains on it and examines it under a microscope to see what type of tumor it is, and grades it depending upon how aggressive it looks. Rarely, the type of brain tumor is so obvious from the scans or is so deep in the brain that a biopsy isn't gotten, the tumor is treated based upon whats it's presumed to be.

Other Tests
Other possible tests include an MRI of the spine for certain brain tumors (medulloblastoma and high grade ependymoma) which tend to seed down the spine, a spinal tap to look for cancer cells shedding into the cerebral-spinal fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord, and an endocrine (hormonal) blood test evaluation for pituitary or midbrain tumors. We may test to look for the origin of the brain tumor elsewhere in the body if it is believed not to have started in the brain. Spread of primary brain tumors to other body organs is very rare, but when it occurs it's usually to lung or bone marrow.







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