Brain Tumor Symptoms & Risk Factors

Approximately 62,000 people will develop brain and spinal cord tumors in the United States this year. The causes of brain tumors are largely unknown, and spinal cord and brain tumor symptoms can vary by individual. Brain tumors can be benign (curable) or malignant (non curable). Primary brain tumors form in the brain.  Secondary (metastatic) brain tumors develop from cancers that start elsewhere in the body and spread to the brain.

Brain tumor symptoms can vary, but may include:

  • Constant headaches
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Confusion
  • Vision problems
  • Weakness on one side

Even though these brain tumor symptoms do not automatically indicate that a brain tumor is present, if the symptoms are strong and persistent, you should still make an appointment to see your doctor.

The cause of primary brain tumors is unknown. Little is known about the interaction of genetic factors and environmental toxins in the development of brain tumors. Identification of the risk factors for brain tumors may aid in prevention and suggest effective treatments. High-quality epidemiological studies continue to play an important role in our understanding of brain cancer and the formation of brain tumors..

Brain Tumor Diagnosis

A brain tumor diagnosis can be achieved by evaluating an individual using various tests, including:

  • Neurological exam
  • An MRI scan, which can confirm an abnormality in your brain
  • Biopsy

If a brain tumor is diagnosed, a surgery or biopsy is usually necessary to determine the type of tumor based on the microscopic features of the tumor.  The type of tumor is determined by the types of cells and additional microscopic features that give each tumor a grade, typically from I to IV.  Treatment will be recommended based on the type and grade of tumor.

Some of the more common brain tumor diagnoses include:

  • Meningiomas are brain tumors that arise from the covering of the brain and represent about 30 percent of primary brain tumors.  The majority of meningiomas are benign (grade I), but can be more aggressive (grade II and III).  Meningiomas can often be observed, but interventions such as surgery and radiation are often necessary if the tumor grows or causes neurologic symptoms.
  • Gliomas are primary brain tumors made up predominantly of the supporting cells in the brain that normally help keep nerve cells healthy.  Glioma is a broad term that refers to astrocytomas, oligodendrogliomas and ependymomas.
    • Astrocytomas are the most commonly diagnosed brain tumors, representing about 20 percent of all primary tumors. A grade IV astrocytoma, also known as glioblastoma, is the most common glioma in adults and one of the most difficult to treat effectively. Grade II astrocytoma (diffuse atrocytoma) and grade III astrocytoma (anaplastic astrocytoma) are also found in adults and tend to behave less aggressively than grade IV astrocytomas.
    • Oligodendrogliomas represent about 2 percent of all primary brain tumors.  Oligodendrogliomas tend to respond more favorably to chemotherapy than astrocytomas, particularly those with specific genetic alterations which can be tested for routinely.  Similar to astrocytomas, oligodendrogliomas are graded from II to III based on the microscopic features.
    • Ependymoma represent about 2 percent of all primary brain tumors and can also be found in the spinal cord.  This brain tumor diagnosis is often treated with radiation after surgery.  It is graded from II to III.  

Multispecialty Team

NorthShore University HealthSystem physicians and the team at the Kellogg Cancer Center work collaboratively and are dedicated to putting patients and families at the center of a healthcare experience that delivers compassionate, quality care.

Every week, our multidisciplinary team meets to discuss each patient’s case in detail and to design a personalized treatment plan. Your team may include your medical oncologist, surgeon, radiation oncologist, genetics counselor, pathologist, nutritionist, interventional radiologist, social workers, and researchers focused on you. This meeting of the minds provides each patient with an individualized care plan to create the path for the most optimal outcome. Our approach emphasizes open communication, collaborating with each other personally and through one of the most advanced electronic medical records systems in the country.

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