A brain tumour is an abnormal growth of cells within or around the structure of the brain. They can impact all areas of the brain and change how a person thinks, feels, and reacts. There are over 120 types of brain tumours, ranging from non-malignant (non-cancerous) to malignant (harmful or cancerous). In some cases, brain tumours can put pressure on surrounding tissue, leading to long-term effects.
It is unknown what causes brain tumours. Family history, age, environmental exposure may be risk factors.
Signs and symptoms of brain tumour
Brain tumour symptoms vary from person to person and may appear overtime or all at once. Not every type of brain tumour will generate the same symptoms. The symptoms may also occur with other conditions, so may not indicate a brain tumour.
Common symptoms of a brain tumour include:
- Behavioural changes
- Cognitive changes
- Dizziness or unsteadiness
- Double or blurred vision
- Frequent headaches
- Hearing impairment
- Morning nausea and vomiting
- Weakness or paralysis
Symptoms of a brain tumour will depend on the size and location of the tumour, and not everyone will experience all the symptoms listed.
Diagnosis and treatment for brain tumour
A brain tumour is diagnosed by using a combination of neurological exams, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans. Doctors will determine the best treatment for a brain tumour based on factors like:
- Overall health
- Tumour location
- Tumour size
- Tumour type
For malignant tumours (such as cancer), surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy are the most recommended treatments. For more information about cancerous tumours, including metastatic cancer, visit the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada website.
In cases where surgery is not possible or the brain tumour is not doing any harm or causing any major symptoms, doctors may recommend monitoring the tumour before making additional treatment decisions: this is called a “wait and see approach”. It’s important for the person with the brain tumour and their immediate family to discuss available treatment options with the healthcare professionals.
Brain tumour recurrence
Sometimes a brain tumour can become ‘active’ again. This could indicate growth or change in the tumour. Normally this is discovered during routine checkups. If the tumour does come back or become active again, the healthcare team will determine the best course of treatment.
Tips for helping others with a brain tumour
- Help them access support
The person with a brain tumour may need help from family, friends, or caregivers to complete activities of daily living (ADLs), get to appointments, or to run errands. If you are able to offer them help, ask them what they need from you: they may not know how to approach you or feel awkward about asking. You can also help them find local support services that can provide them with information about brain injury, introduce them to other people going through similar experiences, and more.
- Ask questions of the healthcare team
The healthcare team has a wealth of knowledge about brain tumours, and they can help you and the person with the brain tumour understand it. They can also keep you both informed of treatment options and clinical trials for which the person may be eligible.
- Find ways to cope with cognitive, behavioural, and physical effects
The brain tumour may be altering your friend or family member’s cognitive, behavioural, and physical abilities. This affects their activities of daily living (ADLs) and can mean they can’t do things the same way they used to before the brain tumour. This will be frustrating for both of you and it will take some time to adjust.
There are ways to help both of you cope with those changes. For example, if they are experiencing memory problems, writing things down can help them keep track of tasks.
- Learn about finding a new normal
With a brain tumour diagnosis comes a lot of change. Nothing may ever be quite the same again. It will take time for the person with the brain tumour to adjust to their new normal. You will also experience strong emotions about the changes and how they have impacted the lives of you and your friend/family member.
Learning what to expect when things are changing is a good way to pick up coping methods that can make transitions easier.
- Take care of physical health
A brain tumour is a health condition that can have many effects on the mind and body. Eating a healthy balanced diet, exercising safely, and getting appropriate rest are great ways for the person to feel their best and take care of themselves..
The Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada offers many programs, services, and support for anyone affected by a brain tumour. Their handbooks provide information about treatment options, long-term effects, and an overview of brain tumours. These handbooks are available in English and French (print copy shipped free in Canada or available electronically)
- Adult Brain Tumour Handbook
- Non-Malignant Brain Tumour
- Pediatric Brain Tumour
- Brain Tumour Caregiver Handbook
Disclaimer: There is no shortage of web-based online medical diagnostic tools, self-help or support groups, or sites that make unsubstantiated claims around diagnosis, treatment and recovery. Please note these sources may not be evidence-based, regulated or moderated properly and it is encouraged individuals seek advice and recommendations regarding diagnosis, treatment and symptom management from a regulated healthcare professional such as a physician or nurse practitioner. Individuals should be cautioned about sites that make any of the following statements or claims that:
- The product or service promises a quick fix
- Sound too good to be true
- Are dramatic or sweeping and are not supported by reputable medical and scientific organizations.
- Use of terminology such as “research is currently underway” or “preliminary research results” which indicate there is no current research.
- The results or recommendations of product or treatment are based on a single or small number of case studies and has not been peer-reviewed by external experts
- Use of testimonials from celebrities or previous clients/patients that are anecdotal and not evidence-based
Always proceed with caution and with the advice of your medical team.