By: Dr. Ahmad Elakil

The brain is a critical part of the human body, controlling everything from how we think and move to our touch, vision, and breathing. It can be thought of as the body’s computer system, managing a vast range of functions essential to life that we may not even realize. The central nervous system is made up of the brain and spinal cord, and when brain function is interrupted, emotions, speech, and movement may also be altered. 

Many conditions of the brain have been documented to date. However, one of the most serious conditions is a brain tumor. Tumors are not always cancerous, as cases of benign brain tumors have been reported. But even when benign, tumors can still lead to pressure and other complications. 

Understanding brain tumors and how to identify one is essential in providing a precise diagnosis. During the earlier stages of a brain tumor, the treatment process might be simple. In such a case, minimally invasive brain and spine surgery could be an effective treatment option. However, when the symptoms are not addressed during these earlier stages, complications are more likely to develop and tumors may be harder to treat. 

What Is a Brain Tumor?

A brain tumor is an abnormal growth that affects the brain. It can also be described as a mass that develops within the brain. Any part of the brain can be affected by a tumor. However, even if a tumor is small in size, it can still pose a significant threat to a patient’s well-being and life. 

The term brain tumor actually refers to a wide range of growths that can develop. Medical researchers and experts have identified various types of tumors that may affect the brain. While there are many varieties, a few main categories are used to help establish the severity of the growth. 

A tumor affecting the brain can fall within one of these two main categories:

  • Benign tumor: These tumors are growths that do not contain cancerous cells. They can still become larger in size, but they are not cancerous. There is also no risk of malignant activity from a benign tumor, which means it will not spread to other areas in the body. 
  • Malignant tumor: A malignant tumor is one that has formed due to the presence of cancerous cells. When a patient has a malignant tumor, they will be diagnosed with brain cancer in the process. 

When a cancerous tumor is identified in a patient’s brain, two main subcategories are used to describe the growth. This helps the patient and doctor understand the severity of the situation. It’s also an important step during the diagnosis process, as treatment provided will generally depend on the type of malignant tumor that has developed. 

  • Primary brain tumor: This is a cancerous growth that is initiated from cells within the patient’s brain. There are no signs of cancer outside of the brain when this type of tumor is in an early developmental stage. 
  • Secondary brain tumor: This type of growth is often referred to as a metastatic brain tumor too. It’s caused by cancerous cells that spread from different parts of the patient’s body toward their brains. If the patient has a secondary brain tumor, it means the cancer originated from somewhere else. 

Primary brain cancer can become metastatic. When this happens, the cancerous cells that originated from the brain spreads to other tissues in the patient’s body. This may cause additional cancerous growths to develop – often at regions located far away from the brain.

Is a Brain Tumor Always Cancerous?

The short answer to this question is no. Being diagnosed with a brain tumor does not mean the patient has cancer. This is because a brain tumor can sometimes consist of non-cancerous cells. In these cases, the patient is told they have a benign brain tumor. 

Many people think that being diagnosed with a brain tumor means they have cancer. However, this is not always the case and patients need to know whether or not they have cancer when diagnosed with a brain tumor. 

With this in mind, patients still need to understand that a benign brain tumor can be harmful. These tumors tend to develop at a very slow rate and can cause symptoms, such as pressure that is generally applied to the brain. 

Types of Brain Tumors

As we have already noted, there are a number of known brain tumors. Generally, a brain tumor is classified based on the specific types of brain cells that are involved in the growth of the tumor itself. It’s also important to note the categories of brain tumors, including primary and secondary brain tumors. 

Both benign and cancerous brain tumors can be made up of different brain cells. Thus, we must consider the specific brain region affected by the growth of each of these. This also gives the patient and doctor a better view of the cells that will generally be involved. 

Here is an overview of benign common brain tumor types (they do not consist of cancerous cells):

  • Meningiomas: These are tumors that form at the membrane of the brain. This membrane covers the entire brain region. It acts as a protective barrier around the brain. 
  • Craniopharyngiomas: This is a type of benign tumor that develops at the base of the patient’s brain. It’s a relatively uncommon type of benign tumor in older individuals. Most patients are still very young. 
  • Gliomas: This type of benign tumor is made up of cells that form glial tissue. This is the tissue that helps to provide support for nerve fibers and the sections that make nerves. 
  • Pituitary adenomas: A type of benign tumor that affects the pituitary gland. This small gland has several important roles to play in the endocrine system. A pituitary adenoma can suppress the function of the gland. 
  • Haemangioblastomas: A type of benign tumor that affects the blood vessels found inside the brain. 

Among patients with a cancerous tumor, there are also a few types that can develop. In an estimated 78% of all cases where a malignant brain tumor is diagnosed, gliomas are the type of growth observed. 

Types of cancerous brain tumors that can develop include:

  • Ependymomas: These happen when there is a transformation in the ependymal cells. Ependymomas are neoplastic cells that form a lining at the brain’s ventricular system. 
  • Medulloblastomas: These are cancerous tumors that generally originate from the cerebellum. They are mostly diagnosed in children. Medulloblastomas are considered high-grade cancerous tumors. 
  • Glioblastoma multiforme: These are a highly invasive tumor that grows quickly. This type of tumor is also known to spread faster than other types of cancerous brain tumors. 
  • Astrocytomas: Among glioma tumors, astrocytomas are the most common. They can also develop in the spinal cord. Astrocytes become cancerous, which are a specific type of glial cell. The tumor may develop at various sites within the brain.

Additionally, oligodendrogliomas and rhabdoid tumors are also cancerous. 

Signs and Symptoms of a Brain Tumor

The recognition of a brain tumor early on helps to improve the potential outcome of the condition. Patients should be cautious when they experience a sudden occurrence of headaches. When this happens, they should also consider the accompanying symptoms. With a brain tumor, accurate and early diagnosis are the two main factors that often affect survival rate and treatment complexity. 

Symptoms can vary from one patient to the next. Some may experience only a few symptoms while others go through a more severe level. Still, there are a few common signs that have been associated with brain tumors in general. These include:

  • Speech problems
  • Balance problems
  • Behavioral changes
  • Seizures 
  • Hearing and vision problems
  • Confusion 
  • Unexplained headaches 
  • Vomiting or nausea with no explanation
  • Sensation loss in the arm and leg

It’s advised that patients consult with a doctor at Insight Neurosurgery if they experience these symptoms. An appointment becomes even more critical when the patient has multiple symptoms listed above, simultaneously. In some cases, symptoms may interlink with another condition and could go away if they are mild. However, if the symptoms seem to persist, an appointment with a doctor should definitely be considered. 

Scheduling An Appointment

The first step to treating a brain tumor is the diagnostics process, as we have noted. The process involves a few imaging tests to better understand whether it’s a brain tumor causing symptoms. Even when a brain tumor is not present, gaining a diagnosis for related symptoms can be helpful. 

Dr. Ahmad Elakil is a highly experienced neurosurgeon. He has worked with numerous patients who have experienced problems related to brain tumors. Dr. Elakil is also experienced in working with conditions like neck pain, lower back pain, spinal cord injury, and other brain conditions. He can provide a consultation to help you understand what the cause behind your symptoms may be,  as well as offer suggestions on the most appropriate treatments to reduce symptoms and avoid future complications. 

To request an appointment with Dr. Ahmad Elakil or to learn more about the services offered at Insight Hospital & Medical Center in Chicago, Please call (312) 567-2273 or click here to find out about next day appointments.