According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) classification (last modified in the year 2016), brain cancers are described as high-grade (III and IV) tumours of the Central Nervous System (CNS). A brain tumour is a condition that can affect people of any gender, age, size, colour or geographical location however the stage and type of it might differ from person to person. Although doctors and researchers are trying to understand the genetics and treatment options for brain cancers, facts of brain cancers can help you to diagnose and treat it. Dr Sunil Furtado, Senior Consultant, Neurosurgery, Cytecare Hospitals shares ten must-know facts about brain cancer.
Fact 1: Not all brain tumours are cancers, some are completely benign or harmless masses of cancerous cells that mainly target the structural tissue of the brain. While, some could be malignant or cancerous in nature, which means that the cancerous cells can spread to the other organs of the body.
Fact 2: Unlike popular belief that brain cancers are a common occurrence in India, the incidence of brain cancers is found to be extremely rare in India. Only two or three out of 1,00,000 people are affected accounting for less than 2% of a total number of malignancies diagnosed.
Fact 3: If you thought that brain cancer is just one type of cancer that affects the brain cells or tissues, then you are wrong. In fact, there are various types of brain tumours which are categorised based on the size, location, cell of origin and grade. Hence, not all types of brain tumours are the same.
Fact 4: Brain cancers are mainly categorised into two types namely primary tumours and secondary tumours. Primary tumours are the ones that affect the brain tissue and grow there. Secondary tumours also called metastatic tumours affect a certain part of the body such as lung, breast, kidney, stomach and intestine and spread to the brain over time. Secondary tumours are more common than primary tumours and found to be the most common in India.
Fact 5: One of the most common symptoms of brain tumours is increasing severity of headaches, which is more severe in the morning. Other common symptoms of brain cancer include weakness in the hands and legs, loss of balance while walking, blurred vision, seizures or fits, memory loss, vomiting and sudden shifts in mood or personality. If you experience any of these symptoms, do consult a doctor immediately. However, bear in the mind that these symptoms are not always indicative of brain tumours unless confirmed by radiological tests.
Fact 6: If you doctor speculates a brain tumour, clinical tests are recommended to assess the neurological system. The doctor will also advise a CT scan, followed by various types of MRI scans to diagnose the grade of the cancers. To identify the aggressiveness of the tumour, examination of the tumour tissue is done through a biopsy or tumour excision. This typically requires opening of the skull and removal of the tumour surgically. Read about 6 common tests to determine your risk of cancer!
Fact 7: According to the guidelines released by WHO, tumours are categorised into four grades based on the intensity and abnormality of the cells.
Grade 1: Cells look benign and grow slowly; survival of the patient is likely.
Grade 2: Cells look slightly abnormal. The tumour grows slowly and may spread to other tissues.
Grade 3: Cells look abnormal. The tumour grows aggressively and tends to recur.
Grade 4: The cells look abnormal and spread quickly. Tumour could be life-threatening.
Fact 8: The treatment of brain tumour depends on the type/grade of the cancer, age and general fitness. For grade I and II brain tumours, surgical removal may suffice which will reduce the size of the tumour and curb symptoms. In the case of more malignant tumours (Grade III and IV), radiation therapy and chemotherapy are used to kill the remaining cancerous cells. Chemotherapy could be done either orally or IV (through a vein). The higher the grade of the tumour, poorer the survival. Grade IV tumours have a median survival of 15 months. Read more on what types of cancer respond well to chemotherapy?
Fact 9: Genetic mutation is a proven risk factor for brain cancers. These genetic mutations can occur either by birth or spontaneously develop over a period of time. While lifestyle or other habits cannot be held as prominent causes for the same, a good lifestyle is nonetheless a great way to avoid medical complications during treatment.
Fact 10: Post treatment care, as a follow-up, is crucial to identify tumour recurrence. Ask your doctor about risks or long term side-effects based on the type of cancer, treatment plan and overall health. Be watchful of the common symptoms to know the recurrence of the cancer post treatment.
Awareness of patient and family members is mandatory for brain cancers since it can affect regardless of age, sex or history. Stay equipped to diagnose this disease early for faster treatment and better mitigation.