Brain Cancer Awareness Month: Let’s Talk Signs, Treatment, and Support

May 25, 2021
A serious young man in a white shirt stares directly at viewers

 

Before we conclude the month of May, we’d like to recognize Brain Cancer Awareness Month. The American Cancer Society estimates that about 24,530 malignant brain and spinal cord tumors will be diagnosed in 2021.

Cancers that begin in brain tissue are known as central nervous system cancers. Primary brain tumors develop in the brain. Secondary brain tumors or brain metastases begin in another part of the body but spread to the brain.

Benign brain tumors begin in cells within or around the brain. They grow slowly and don’t spread. Still, they can recur (come back) after treatment.

Malignant tumors are cancerous and can have more dangerous effects. They can grow quickly and spread into other areas of the brain. They may also recur after treatment. Metastatic or secondary brain tumors begin in other parts of the body like the lung, breast, colon, or skin, but spread to the brain.

There are over 120 types of brain tumors and central nervous system tumors.

Malignant brain tumors occur slightly more often in males than in females.

— National Brain Tumor Society

What are the signs & symptoms of brain cancer?

Symptoms are closely related to where the tumor forms and how it affects that part of the brain.

The brain has 3 main sections:

Cerebrum – The cerebrum is the largest part of the brain, at the top of the head. It controls thinking, learning, problem solving, emotions, reading, writing, and voluntary movement. In many people, the left side of the brain controls speech.

Cerebellum – The cerebellum is the lower back of the brain (near the middle of the back of the head). It controls movement, balance, and posture.

Brain Stem – The brain stem is the lowest part of the brain (just above the back of the neck). The brain stem connects the brain to the spinal cord. It controls breathing, heart rate, and the nerves and muscles used in seeing, hearing, walking, talking, and eating.

The most common signs of brain tumors include:

  • A morning headache, or a headache that goes away when standing
  • Seizures 
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Vision, hearing, and speech problems 
  • Loss of balance and trouble walking 
  • Weakness on one side of the body 
  • Numbness on one side of the body
  • Unusual sleepiness or change in activity level 
  • Unusual changes in personality or behavior 
  • Trouble with thinking and memory

Brain tumors are the eighth most common cancer overall among people age 40 and older.

— National Brain Tumor Society

What are the treatment options for brain cancer?

A team of specialists will work together to treat a brain tumor. This team can include a neurosurgeon, neuro-oncologist, radiation oncologist, medical oncologist, neurologist, and endocrinologist. These doctors will discuss your tumor and treatment options. Your options will depend on the type and size of the tumor, whether it is benign or malignant, its location, and how far it has spread.

Several types of treatment are used to treat brain tumors. These include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a wearable device delivering low-intensity electric current.

Maintaining strong communication with your medical team can be essential throughout the cancer journey.

It’s an absolute battle but you can find the inner strength to fight back harder than cancer. Stage 3 brain cancer couldn’t keep me from my life.

— Kristen, cancer survivor

Where can I find brain cancer resources and support?

If you are living with brain cancer or are a caregiver to someone with brain cancer, the Cancer Support Community offers a variety of resources to help ease the burden of your journey.

How can patients and caregivers cope with a brain tumor?