Brain Tumor Facts

Brain tumor statistics:

  • In the US, as of January 2017, nearly 700,000 people are living with a brain tumor diagnosis (approximately 476,000 or 2/3 are benign (non-cancerous) and 224,000 or 1/3 are malignant tumors).
  • More than 79,000 people in the US are expected to be diagnosed with a brain tumor (4,600 of them will be a child between the ages of 0-19).
  • This year, nearly 17,000 people will lose their battle with a primary malignant or central nervous system brain tumor.
  • There are more than 120 types of brain tumors.

Is brain tumor research well funded?

At this time, brain tumor research (and especially benign brain tumor research) is underfunded and the public remains unaware of the magnitude of this disease.

What is a brain tumor?

A brain tumor is a group (or mass) of abnormal cells in your brain. Many different types of brain tumors exist, and their clinical behavior can vary from benign (noncancerous) to malignant (cancerous). Brain tumors can be divided into two general categories: Primary brain tumors: those that begin in your brain and Secondary (otherwise known as metastatic) brain tumors: those that have spread to your brain from other cancerous sites in your body.  Benign brain tumors, although non-cancerous, can be life-threatening because they can compress brain tissue and other structures inside the skull, so the term “benign” can be misleading.  This is especially true when benign brain tumors are located in the brainstem.

Of the 120 types of brain tumors, which type does Riley have?

Riley had two benign vascular brain tumors, also known as Cerebral Cavernous Malformations (CCMs), in her brain stem. They are abnormal clusters of blood vessels embedded in normal brain tissue. Most CCMs occur sporadically, but in certain cases they can be hereditary. They can occur anywhere in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). Because they are low-pressure lesions, cavernous malformations are prone to leech blood into the surrounding brain, causing hemorrhagic strokes (bleeding in the brain), seizures, and the acute onset of neurological deficits. These lesions compose about 5% of all vascular lesions of the brain. However, they are only found in about 0.1% of the general population.

Is there any treatment for a CCM?

The primary treatment option for a CCM is surgical removal. Radiation therapy has not been shown to be effective. The decision to operate is made based upon the risk of approaching the lesion. For example, symptomatic lesions close to the brain surface in “non eloquent” brain (areas for example, those areas not involved with motor function, speech, vision, hearing, memory, and learning) are very likely to be candidates for removal. On the other hand, lesions located in deep brain areas are associated with higher surgical risk and are often not candidates for surgery until the lesion has bled multiple times. Medications can often lessen general symptoms such as headache, back pain, and seizures.

What is the prognosis for patients with CCMs?

Re-bleeding from a cavernous angioma is common, it is not predictable, and individuals frequently have multiple CCMs found via magnetic resonance imaging. Individuals with CCM are faced with a diagnosis that imparts risk of multiple future hemorrhages that occur seemingly at random and without any preventative therapy except surgical removal.

What are the most common brain tumor treatment options?

Brain tumor treatment options depend on the type of brain tumor, as well its location, its size, and the symptoms it is causing. Some options include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and observation.

Why are brainstem tumors so difficult to treat?

The brainstem is a highly specialized and delicate area of the brain. The brainstem controls all our vital bodily functions. This includes Breathing, Heart beat and Swallowing. Depending on exactly where in the brain stem a tumor is (and how big it is), surgery may not be possible without destroying a vital area of the brain stem, which would in itself cause death. But, surgery for these tumors has developed a lot in recent years and is sometimes more successful than in the past. For some types of childhood brain tumors a lot of progress has been made in treating them. But when tumors are in the brain stem it is still not usually possible to cure them.

What are the symptoms of a brain tumor?

The symptoms of a brain tumor vary widely and depend on the specific type of brain tumor, location, rate of growth, and size. There are no specific symptoms that only occur due to a brain tumor, but signs and symptoms may include:

  • new onset or change in pattern of headaches
  • headaches that gradually become more frequent and more severe
  • new onset of seizures
  • gradual loss of sensation or movement in an arm or a leg
  • difficulty with balance
  • speech difficulties
  • personality or behavior changes
  • unexplained nausea or vomiting
  • blurred vision, double vision, or loss of peripheral vision
  • hearing problems

What causes brain tumors?

In most cases, we still do not understand what causes the genetic mutations that can lead to primary brain tumors. The following are some explanations of the risk factors that can increase the chance of developing a brain tumor:

  • Age. Your risk for developing a brain tumor increases as you age. Brain tumors are most common in older adults. However, a brain tumor can occur at any age. Certain types of brain tumors, such as medulloblastomas and juvenile pilocytic astrocytomas, occur almost exclusively in children.
  • Family history of brain tumors. A small portion of brain tumors occur in people with a family history of brain tumors or a family history of genetic syndromes that increase the risk of brain tumors.
  • Exposure to radiation. People who have been exposed to a type of radiation called ionizing radiation have an increased risk of brain tumor.
  • Immunosuppression. If your immune system is severely depressed due to disease (i.e., HIV) or powerful medications designed to shut down your immune system (i.e., those taken after an organ transplant), it can increase your chances of developing a brain tumor or other cancers.

Who is more likely to get a brain tumor, an adult or a child? Brain Tumors do not discriminate. Primary brain tumors – those that begin in the brain and tend to stay in the brain – occur in people of all ages, but they are statistically more frequent in children and older adults. Brain tumors in children are different from those in adults, and consequently, are treated differently. As many as 69% of children will survive, but they are often left with long-term side effects.

How are most brain tumors diagnosed?

CT or MRI scans.

Can benign brain tumors be life threatening?

Benign brain tumors can be life threatening because they can compress brain tissue and other structures inside the skull and they may recur, so the term “benign” can be misleading. Terminology is further complicated by some investigators who classify low-grade cancerous tumors as either “benign” or “relatively benign.” Regardless, compression of brain tissue or its additional structures (for example, nerves, ventricles) by a tumor mass is a major cause of the symptoms seen with benign (and malignant) tumors.

Why is important for childhood brain tumor survivors to be part of a Lifetime Monitoring Program?

Childhood brain tumor survivors need to be closely monitored. Most large pediatric brain tumor treatment programs have specific survivor programs. These programs provide specialized health monitoring throughout childhood. They also identify specific risks based upon a thorough review of the child’s medical history including identification of risks associated with specific tumor types or interventions. As a child enters adulthood, survivor programs help families transfer ongoing care out of the pediatric setting and into a medical program that can provide the specialized monitoring the patient will need as an adult.

The above facts and information were obtained from the following organizations:

Barrow Neurological Institute
The American Brain Tumor Association
The National Brain Tumor Society
John Hopkins Medicine
Stanford School of Medicine
Medicine Net

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