Symptoms and causes

The brain

The brain's functions are:

  • to regulate the functioning of our body
  • to collect all information
  • to coordinate commands for our body
  • essential for vision, hearing, smelling, thinking, feeling, speaking and moving
  • essential for knowing what is going on inside and outside our body

The brain, the spinal cord and the nerves all form the nervous system. We divide the nervous system into the central nervous system (the brain and the spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system (the nerves).

What is it?

A brain tumour arises in the central nervous system: the brain or the spinal cord. The brain consists of nerve cells, called neurons, and supportive cells called glial cells. Most brain tumours arise in the glial cells. The brain is covered by three thin layers of tissue: the meninges. A tumour may also form there. This tumour is located outside of the brain but inside the cranium. The spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. It is also covered with membranes. Rarely does a tumour arise in the spinal cord or spinal cord membrane.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that there are 120 types of these sorts of tumours in the central nervous system. The two most common are gliomas and meningiomas.

Gliomas

A glioma arises in the glial cells: astrocytomas (the most common), oligodendrogliomas and ependymomas (very rarely). The brain tumour's degree of malignancy is expressed in grades. There are four grades of gliomas.

  • Grade 1 gliomas grow extremely slowly and have well-defined borders.
  • Grade 2 gliomas also grow slowly, but have borders that are far less definable. They can sometimes develop over the course of years without the person presenting any symptoms. Recurrence is possible after treatment; in approximately 50% of the cases, they recur as a grade 3.
  • Grade 3 and 4 gliomas grow and spread very quickly and do not responde well to treatment.

Meningiomas

A meningioma arises in the brain or spinal fluid meninges. There are three grades of meningioma:

  • grade 1 meningiomas are the most common and do not contain any malignant cells
  • grade 2 meningiomas
  • grade 3 meningiomas

Symptoms

The following complaints or symptoms may indicate a brain tumour:

  • recurrent headache
  • vomitng
  • nausea
  • speech changes
  • reduced vision or hearing
  • balance problems
  • mood fluctuations
  • behaviour and personality changes
  • troubles concentrating or with coordination
  • memory loss
  • muscle twitches
  • tingling or numbness in the arms or legs
  • epileptic attacks

Diagnosis and treatment

Treatment

Treatment for a brain tumour may consist of oncological surgery, radiation therapy and targeted therapy.

The attending physician may ask a patient to participate in scientific research (also called a clinical study or trial). For patients, participation in a study often represents an additional treatment option. In clinical trials, physicians test whether a new drug or treatment is safe and produces better results than existing treatments. However, a patient will only participate if he or she gives his or her express consent.

Treatment centres and specialisations

Latest publication date: 21/01/2021