Brain tumors can be tough to treat

An individual’s personality is uniquely their own and scientists continue to discover that the same holds true for the organ in which it is held.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the brain is the most complex part of the body. The three-pound organ acts as the mother board for the entire body by helping it interpret senses, jump-start movement, control behavior and emotions, and birth intelligence. Those aspects that make the brain so beautiful can also make it extremely challenging when a tumor begins growing inside.

“Defining a brain tumor is no different than asking me to define the sky,” said Ania Pollack, MD, a neurosurgeon and neuro-oncologist with the Clinical Neuroscience Institute. “The number and variety of brain tumors are so vast that it can be difficult to sum up in one answer.”

Each brain tumor is as different as the individual diagnosed, which often makes its symptoms, diagnosis and treatment extremely different than tumors found in other parts of the body, Dr. Pollack said.

“There is only one brain in the head, but there are cranial nerves, brain tissues and meninges that cover the brain,” she said. “All of that — as well as the spinal cord — are potential sources for tumors and that is why it is so diverse and different than the rest of oncology.”

Brain tumors can best be understood by classifying them into two groups: Primary brain tumors, which start in the brain, and secondary (metastatic) brain tumors, which begin in another part of the body and spread to the brain. Primary and secondary brain tumors can be either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

Both benign and malignant brain tumors cause symptoms by pressing against vital areas of the brain and, therefore, require treatment. Benign tumors grow but rarely spread to other parts of the brain unlike malignant tumors that grow rapidly and infiltrate other areas of the brain, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) said. There are more than 120 different types of brain tumors. The deadliest form is called a glioblastoma multiforme, which typically has a poor prognosis.

The signs and symptoms of brain tumors in adults are not the same for everyone

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There is still a lot to be learned about brain tumors including risk factors that make one person more susceptible than another. Studies have shown that certain environmental exposures and previous radiation treatments increase one’s risk. Meanwhile, researchers continue to unravel facts about the brain that help them to better understand how to provide treatment. For instance, unlike other organs in the body, the brain has a blood barrier which only allows certain molecules to cross into it. This is one of the problems for drug delivery into the brain, and why research continues to be conducted, Dr. Pollack continued.

Treatment for a brain tumor depends on what type of tumor it is and its location. Benign tumors that are located in surgically inaccessible locations, may often be treated with other means such as radiation. Malignant tumors located deep into the brain’s tissue that cannot be surgically removed may require radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy. Regardless of treatment or prognosis, a brain tumor, more often than not, creates incredible stress on a family affected by it.

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