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brain tumour disease

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Brain structures

Alternative Names
brain neoplasm

Brain tumours are abnormal masses of cells that arise in the brain. They may press on nearby brain structures and cause damage to the brain tissue.

What is going on in the body?
Brain tumours are masses of cells, either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). They may put pressure on or destroy the surrounding brain. The most common cancerous brain tumours are metastatic, meaning they have spread through the bloodstream to the brain from cancer in another part of the body. Most tumours that originate in the brain do not spread to other areas of the body.

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?
How the tumour will affect a person depends on the area of the brain involved. Symptoms may include: For example, a tumour in the visual area of the brain will cause problems with vision. Headaches usually appear later along with sluggishness caused by increased pressure within the brain. Seizures can occur as a result of irritation between the tumour and the brain. Pituitary tumours usually result in hormone changes such as gigantism, unusual height or size, or Cushing's syndrome.

What are the causes and risks of the condition?
The people most at risk for tumours include:
  • children, especially those with cancer
  • the elderly, especially those at risk for cancer in other areas of the body
  • individuals with weak immune systems, such as those with HIV
  • persons who have received x-ray exposure to the head
  • persons with rare genetic disorders, such as von Recklinghausen's syndrome, tuberous sclerosis and von Hippel-Lindau disease
What can be done to prevent the condition?
It is not possible to prevent tumours that originate in the brain. metastatic tumour prevention is possible by avoiding lifestyles or activities that cause tumours in other areas of the body. For example, a person can quit smoking to lower the risk of lung cancer.

How is the condition diagnosed?
Diagnosis is based on imaging studies such as cranial CT scans or cranial MRIs. This is usually followed by surgery to remove the tumour, or perform a biopsy to test for cancer.

What are the long-term effects of the condition?
Long-term effects depend on the type of tumour involved. If left untreated, non-cancerous brain tumours may grow so large that they put pressure on the brain, leading to death.

What are the risks to others?
There are no risks to others.

What are the treatments for the condition?
The use of steroid medications may reduce swelling around the tumour. Surgery is necessary to reduce pressure and to make the correct diagnosis. This is especially important in the case of harmless tumours. These usually do not respond to radiation therapy and chemotherapy. It is best to remove them completely. The best therapy for cancerous tumours is radiation therapy and chemotherapy after surgery. This will help increase the chance of survival. Physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy may be helpful to improve or correct function after the tumour has been treated.

What are the side effects of the treatments?
The side effects of steroids, such as weight gain, may occur with a long period of treatment. Radiation therapy will usually produce some hair loss. Chemotherapy is often associated with nausea, anaemia and other symptoms.

What happens after treatment for the condition?
Lengthy observation is necessary to see if there are any signs of possible tumour recurrence.

How is the condition monitored?
Ongoing monitoring is done with periodic visits to the doctor, along with periodic cranial CT scans or cranial MRIs.

Author: James Warson, MD
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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