What is Brain Cancer?
The human brain continues to receive an increased amount of attention from the medical community. Subsequently, brain cancers are certainly an area of inquisition. While cancers of many kinds are nothing new, a gain in successful diagnosis and ensuing treatment options for cancer sufferers, along with our increased understanding of the human brain, are certainly allowing for a better glimpse into of the future possibilities of medicine.
So what exactly is brain cancer? Brain cancer is defined as the abnormal growths of cells within the brain. Tumors can develop within the brain itself or any of the surrounding vessels, tissues, or glands, such as the pituitary and pineal glands. It is important to note that not all brain tumors are considered to be simultaneously classified as brain cancer. Currently, classification of cancer is officially determined by the abnormal growth being malignant (aggressively able to spread and more fatal) or benign (slow growth and less likely to be fatal). Current statistics indicate that brain cancer affects nearly 1 in 5,000 individuals in the U.S. annually.
Furthermore, different classifications of brain cancers themselves exist. A metastatic brain cancer is one that spreads to other parts of the body from its initial origin. In other words, not all brain tumors and cancers actually begin in the region of the brain itself, but some have the ability to spread there. Current studies show that generally, a quarter of all brain tumors originate somewhere other than the brain itself.
Causes for brain cancers and tumors in the brain region are still unknown. Currently, most clinicians and researchers agree that brain cancer most likely results from a potential combination of several factors, including prolonged exposure to radiation and genetic factors. Disagreements have yet to be resolved as to whether other variables may affect the condition's prevalence such as a person's diet or other environmental factors.
Symptoms are also tricky and difficult for most to identify, even for leading medical experts at times. Swelling in the region of a tumor may be observed using imaging scans during the diagnosis process; however, the patient may often be unaware of the existence the tumor. Patients do often indicate headaches, overall weakness, difficulty completing activities physically and cognitively they were once able to, and sometimes seizures.
Onset is typically rather gradual, further making diagnosis difficult in many cases. Other symptoms that may indicate possible brain cancer also include persistent vomiting and nausea, abnormalities in speech and vision, along with a noticeable change in mental status, particularly in alertness, focus, comprehension, or memory.
Treatment options vary from individual to individual depending on a wide variety of factors including age, overall health, and the size or location of the brain cancer.
Many diagnosed patients undergo surgery for removal followed by a combination of radiation and chemotherapy. Typically, an array of clinical specialists is used in the treatment process. Neurosurgeons, oncologists, radiologists, dietitians, social workers, and physical therapists may all be involved as a treatment team with an individual's brain cancer case. Needs vary from case to case given the state of the disease, the complexity, and the continued acquisition of applicable knowledge in the medical community regarding the brain region and its associated disorders.
So while we continue to fight for a greater understanding of the brain region, brain cancer continues to hold its place as area of desired, further understanding among society and medical professionals alike.