What are the signs of a brain tumour?

When a patient experiences certain unusual symptoms, such as numbness in the limbs or atypical headaches that cannot be satisfactorily explained by other conditions, neurologists will consider the possibility of a brain tumour

There are over 120 brain tumour types, based on the brain tissues they affect. Not all are cancerous, but even benign tumours can be dangerous because of their size or location. While it’s true that the diagnosis of a brain tumour is a serious one, survival rates will very much depend on other factors: the kind of tumour for example, and the age of the patient.

For example, a noncancerous meningioma (a tumour that arises from the meninges — the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord), the 5-year survival rate is over 95% for children ages 14 and under, 97% in people ages 15 to 39, and over 87% in adults 40 and older.

According to the American Cancer Society's publication, Cancer Facts & Figures 2022 the 10-year survival rate for cancerous brain tumours is almost 31%. The 5-year survival rate for people younger than age 15 is about 75%. For people who are between 15 to 39, the 5-year survival rate nears 72%. 

What are the symptoms of a brain tumour?

  • Severe ‘thunderclap’ headaches
  • An alteration in the pattern of existing headaches
  • Slow onset facial paralysis
  • Loss of taste and smell
  • Blurred vision or ‘seeing double’
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Hearing problems
  • Numbness or loss of movement in an arm or a leg
  • Poor balance
  • Slurred speech
  • Exhaustion
  • Confusion 
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Inability to follow simple commands
  • Personality or behaviour changes
  • Seizures

Conditions which are mistaken for brain tumours

It's important to remember, there are also other conditions which have symptoms that are very similar to brain tumours. These include:

How is a brain tumour diagnosed?

If a brain tumour is suspected, your neurologist will check balance, hearing, vision and reflexes.

The medical team will then investigate further, using imaging technology, such as computerized tomography (CT) scan, which combines a series of X-ray images taken from different angles around your body, or Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) which utilises strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images.

It may be that this rules out the likelihood of a brain tumour, or another condition looks more likely. However, if a tumour is identified, it can be assessed, and a biopsy may be taken, although this is not always possible in every case. 

Other diagnostic tools include:

  • Lumbar puncture to check cerebrospinal fluid for traces of the tumour cells
  • Electroencephalography (EEG) to measure electrical activity in the brain
  • Neurocognitive assessment to evaluate any changes in cognition and well-being
  • Neuro-ophthalmological examination, as sometimes tumours can be seen in the eye
  • Endocrinological evaluation to assess hormone function.

Once the diagnosis has been made, a treatment plan can be devised. 

Options for brain tumour treatment

Treatment plans may include surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Gamma Knife Radiosurgery is an increasingly popular strategy – this technology treats selected brain tumours or lesions in the brain in a minimally invasive way. Gamma Knife Radiosurgery delivers precise beams of radiation to the tumour, lessening risk of damage to surrounding healthy tissue and side effects.

The success of the procedure depends on the size, location, type of tumour and the patient’s personal medical history, but doctors believe for many, Gamma Knife Radiosurgery provides far better results.

According to neurosurgeon Mr Neil Kitchen of Queen Square Radiosurgery Centre, National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (NHNN): ‘Gamma Knife Radiosurgery is performed in hundreds of leading hospitals around the world with more than 80,000 patients treated each year for a number of conditions including brain tumours. With thousands of peer reviewed articles it has gained wide clinical acceptance. Results have proven to be superior or comparable to conventional neurosurgery or whole brain radiotherapy, depending on the specific condition treated.’


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