What is cancer of the brain?
Cancer of the brain is a malignant growth (tumor) in or
on your brain. Cancers that start in the brain are called
primary brain cancers. Cancers that start in another part of
the body and spread to the brain are called secondary brain
cancers or metastatic brain cancer. Secondary cancer is much
more common than primary brain tumors. Metastatic brain
cancer most often spreads from the lung, breast, kidney, or
Brain cancers are always serious because as they grow
they press on and destroy healthy brain tissue.
How does it occur?
The cause of primary brain cancer is not known.
What are the symptoms?
Increased pressure within the skull causes:
headache (most often during the night)
nausea and vomiting
vision problems such as double vision
trouble thinking and speaking clearly
Depending on where the tumor is in the brain, it also may
How is it diagnosed?
Your health care provider will examine you and ask about
your symptoms. You may have a neurological exam, which
involves checking eye movements, reflexes, hearing, balance,
coordination, touch, taste, smell, facial muscle movement,
tongue movement, head movement, and mental status. You may
need special tests to show the size, shape, and location of
the tumor within your brain. Tests may include an x-ray, CT
scan (computed tomography), PET (positron emission
tomography) scan, or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).
A biopsy may be done to confirm that the tumor is cancer
and to find out what type of cells are involved. To do a
biopsy, a surgeon will remove a small sample of tumor tissue
from your brain. The tissue will then be examined under a
How is it treated?
Treatment depends on your diagnosis. Surgery is the most
common treatment of primary adult brain tumors. To take out
the cancer from the brain, a doctor will cut a part of the
bone from the skull to get to the brain. This operation is
called a craniotomy. After the doctor removes the cancer,
the bone will be put back or a piece of metal or a special
fabric will be used to cover the opening in the skull.
Radiation therapy uses x-rays to kill cancer cells from
the outside and shrink tumors (external-beam radiation
therapy). Radiation therapy may also be used by putting
radioisotopes through thin plastic tubes into the tumor to
kill cancer cells from the inside (internal radiation
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells.
Chemotherapy may be taken by pill, or it may be put into the
body by a needle in the vein or muscle. Hormone therapy uses
hormones to stop the cancer cells from growing. Biological
therapy stimulates or restores the ability of your immune
system to fight disease.
How can I take care of myself?
If possible, join a support group for cancer
patients to help you during your illness.
Maintain a hopeful and positive outlook throughout
your treatment and recovery.
Contact national and local self-help organizations
American Cancer Society
1599 Clifton Road, NE
Atlanta, Georgia 30329
AMC Cancer Research Center and Foundation
Cancer Information Service