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, yet 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.
A brain tumour is diagnosed by using a combination of neurological exams, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans.
Treatment for brain tumour
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 to discuss your available treatment options with the healthcare professionals about treatment.
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 your tumour does come back or become active again, your healthcare team will determine the best course of treatment.
Tips for living with brain tumour
- Ask for help & access support
- You may need help from family, friends, or caregivers to complete activities of daily living (ADLs), get to appointments, or to run errands. But unless you ask, your circle of supporters may not know how best to help you. If there is something you need, you should always ask.
There are many ways to access support, whether that is one-on-one support, or attend a virtual brain tumour support group. Gain peer support in a safe, relaxed atmosphere from the comfort of your home.
- Ask questions of your healthcare team
- Your healthcare team has a wealth of knowledge about brain tumours, and they can help you learn all you can about yours. They can also keep you informed of treatment options and clinical trials for which you may be eligible.
- Find ways to cope with cognitive, behavioural, and physical effects
- The brain tumour may be altering your cognitive, behavioural, and physical abilities. This affects your activities of daily living (ADLs) and can mean that you can’t do things the same way you used to before your brain tumour.
There are ways to cope with those changes. For example, if you are experiencing memory problems, writing things down can help you keep track of tasks.
- Learn about finding your new normal
- With a brain tumour diagnosis comes a lot of change in your life. Nothing may ever be quite the same again. It will take time to adjust to your new normal, and you will experience strong emotions – even grief.
Learning what to expect when things are changing for you is a good way to pick up coping methods that can make transitions easier.
- Take care of your physical health
- A brain tumour is a health condition that can have many effects on mind and body. Eating a healthy balanced diet, exercising safely, and getting appropriate rest are great ways to take care of yourself.
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.