Brain Tumor FAQs

What is a brain tumor?

A brain tumor is a growth of abnormal cells in the tissues of the brain, which can place pressure on tissues and impair function. When a mass starts to grow, it is confined to the space within the skull, therefore pushing on vital functions like speech, motor or sensory areas. This mass can also cause the brain’s electrical impulses to misfire, thus causing a seizure. A brain tumor can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

What is the difference between a benign brain tumor and a malignant brain tumor?

A benign brain tumor is slow growing, while a malignant brain tumor is fast growing. The pathologist grades these tumor cells by how many cells within a field are duplicating and other special features.

Meningiomas are considered in general to be benign brain tumors, but there are also more aggressive forms of meningiomas called atypical or anaplastic meningioma. In addition, some benign brain tumors can turn to more aggressive brain tumors over time. Therefore, it is important to follow your doctor’s instructions during your follow-up care.

All glioma tumors are considered cancerous. However, these are graded by the World Health Organization into four subclassifications ranging from WHO Grade I to WHO Grade IV and also known as a glioblastoma (GBM). WHO Grade IV is the most common and aggressive brain tumor, which most likely will be treated by a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

There are more than 120 types of brain tumors that are classified as malignant cancerous growths.

What is the difference between a primary brain tumor and a metastatic (secondary) brain tumor?

A primary brain tumor comes from normal brain cells that grow out of control. Scientists do not know what causes most primary brain tumors. Viruses, defective genes and certain chemicals are all being explored and researched as possible causes, but until the causes have been identified, there is no known way to prevent a brain tumor from developing. Pathologists divide primary tumors into two groups:

  • Glioma tumors (such as astrocytomas, oligodendrogliomas, glioblastomas, and ependymomas)
  • Non-glial tumors that develop from a structure within the brain (such as a meningioma)

Also known as a secondary tumor, a metastatic brain tumor begins in another part of the body as a primary tumor and spreads through the lymphatic system and bloodstream into the brain. These tumors will be named after the tissue in which their growth began, such as a lung tumor or a kidney tumor. In breast cancer, these metastatic brain tumors can appear small but numerous.

What are the symptoms of brain tumors?

Brain tumor symptoms depend on the size, type and location of the tumor. Symptoms may be caused when a tumor presses on a nerve or damages a certain area of the brain, or when the brain swells or fluid builds up within the skull. Common symptoms include:

  • Behavioral and cognitive (mental) problems, such as forgetfulness
  • Headaches
  • Motor and balance problems
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Vision or hearing problems
  • Speech difficulties

Other conditions could cause these problems. If you have these symptoms, see a doctor as soon as possible.

How are brain tumors diagnosed?

There are several ways to diagnose a brain tumor. Most physicians start with a comprehensive physical and neurological examination followed by a medical imaging study such as an MRI and a brain biopsy. It is important to get a tissue diagnosis to determine specifically what type of brain tumor it is.

How are brain tumors treated?

Every patient case at the Hermelin Brain Tumor Center is reviewed by our multidisciplinary brain tumor board, which includes experts from a number of specialties. Based on this conference and the board’s recommendations, we work with you to develop a personalized brain tumor treatment plan. While treatment will vary based on your individual needs, many brain tumors are treated by a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Usually, radiation is given in combination with chemotherapy.

A new FDA approved treatment device, called Optune, uses electric fields to fight brain cancer growth.

Based on your tumor’s location, surgery may be only a needle biopsy, laser treatment or removal of the tumor. Your neurosurgeon will discuss what the safest option will be. Our brain surgeons are experts in the latest techniques and are national leaders in the use of technologies that make surgery safer, such as intraoperative MRI.

In addition, you may be eligible to participate in one of our leading-edge clinical trials investigating the latest brain tumor treatment options. Your neuro-oncologist will discuss what the best course of treatment is for your condition. Occasionally, based on the genetics of the brain tumor, chemotherapy alone will be used.

What does it mean when a brain tumor is stable?

When a tumor is stable, it means the tumor is being kept under control by the therapy you are receiving. The brain tumor treatment slows or stops the cells from multiplying or duplicating. This may mean the tumor cells never grow again. However, it also means that there is a chance the therapy will stop working and the tumor will start growing. Stable disease can be a temporary or permanent state.

What are recurrent tumors?

Recurrent tumors are masses that have started to grow again even after treatment. This may occur at various times during your therapy schedule. We evaluate response to treatment by doing clinical assessments of how you are doing and doing frequent MRIs. Recurrence commonly occurs near the original tumor location, although it can also occur in a different part of the brain or spinal cord.

I have undergone brain tumor treatment. What can I expect?

Unfortunately, most gliomas come back at some time. At Henry Ford Hospital, we take a personalized approach to treating your brain tumor. Each patient exhibits different symptoms based on the location of the brain tumor. Each patient reacts differently to chemotherapy and radiation. It is important to keep in touch with your nurses and doctors if you start to act or feel different.

Your caregivers and family members will have lots of questions and concerns. This will be a journey filled with uncertainty. There is so much to learn and understand. It is important to keep a positive outlook despite any setbacks. Our team can answer any questions or concerns during this journey.

How can I get connected with other brain tumor survivors and their family members?

Your neuro-oncology team can put you in touch with local patients, survivors and caregivers that have similar circumstances. There are also many social media websites that offer advice and support, including the Hermelin Brain Tumor Center Facebook page and the American Brain Tumor Center connections website. In addition, the Hermelin Brain Tumor Center offers a monthly brain tumor support group that provides a forum for people with brain tumors – and their caregivers – to learn from each other’s experiences.

For more information regarding Hermelin Brain Tumor Center support groups, please contact:
The Hermelin Brain Tumor Center
(313) 916-2723

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