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June 8 is World Brain Tumor Awareness Day

By Kathy Hubbard

Deutsche Hirntumorhilfe e.V. translates to German Brain Tumor Association. It was they that started the awareness campaign on June 8, 2000, as a tribute to all brain tumor patients and their families. Countries around the world take part in this global activity so, we should too.

Mayo Clinic explains that a brain tumor is a mass or growth of abnormal cells in the brain. “Many different types of brain tumors exist. Some brain tumors are noncancerous (benign), and some brain tumors are cancerous (malignant). Brain tumors can begin in your brain (primary brain tumors), or cancer can begin in other parts of your body and spread to your brain as secondary (metastatic) brain tumors.”

How quickly a tumor grows varies, and that growth rate plus the tumor’s location determines how it will affect the function of your nervous system. Treatment options depend on the type of tumor, its size, and location.

Contact your primary care provider if you experience a new onset or change in the pattern of headaches or if your headaches become more frequent or severe. Hearing, balance, and vision problems such as blurred vision, double vision, or loss of peripheral vision are also warning signs, as are speech difficulties, feeling very tired, or if you are nauseous, or vomiting.

If you suffer from confusion in everyday matters, have difficulty making decisions, are unable to follow simple commands, display personality or behavior changes, or have a gradual loss of sensation or movement in an arm or leg, it’s time to consult the healthcare professionals. Seek medical attention if you suffer a seizure, particularly if you don’t have a history of seizures.

Many different types of primary brain tumors exist,” Mayo says. “Each gets its name from the type of cells involved. Examples include gliomas that begin in the brain or spinal cord and include astrocytomas, ependymomas, glioblastomas, oligoastrocytomas, and oligodendrogliomas. Yeah. I had to look them up, too.

Meningliomas are tumors, most often noncancerous, that arise from the membranes that surround your brain and spinal cord. Acoustic neuromas (schwannomas) are tumors that develop on the nerves that control your balance and hearing. Pituitary adenomas are tumors that develop in the pituitary gland and affect the hormones that gland produces.

“Medulloblastomas are cancerous brain tumors most common in children, though they can occur at any age. A medulloblastoma starts in the lower back part of the brain and tends to spread through the spinal fluid,” Mayo says.

“Germ cell tumors may develop during childhood where the testicles or ovaries will form. But sometimes germ cell tumors affect other parts of the body, such as the brain.”

And the last but not least of the primary brain tumors is craniopharyngiomas. They occur near the pituitary gland and, as it slowly grows, can affect the pituitary and other structures near the brain.

Mayo explains that secondary brain tumors most often occur in people who have a history of cancer. In rare cases, however, “a metastatic brain tumor may be the first sign of cancer that began elsewhere in your body.”

Any cancer can metastasize to the brain, but breast, colon, kidney, lung, and melanoma are the most common. People who’ve been exposed to a type of radiation treatment called ionizing radiation have an increased risk of brain tumor. That would include some cancer radiation therapy and those who’ve been exposed to an atomic bomb blast.

“A small portion of brain tumors occurs in people with a family history of brain tumors or a family history of genetic syndromes that increase the risk of brain tumors,” Mayo explains.

The size and location and whether it’s cancerous will determine the treatment. If possible, the tumor will be surgically removed. “Even removing a portion of the brain tumor may help reduce your signs and symptoms,” Mayo says.

Alternatively, radiation therapy, either externally or internally, may be utilized. Proton beam therapy allows doctors to control the radiation more precisely. Radiosurgery, which isn’t actually surgery, uses multiple beams of radiation to give a highly focused treatment to kill cells in a small area. And, of course, there’s chemo- and drug therapies.

The end-note today is, don’t wait for symptoms to subside. If you experience any warning signs, call the medico for an evaluation.

Kathy Hubbard is a member of the Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com. This article was written for and published in the Bonner County Daily Bee on June 8, 2022.

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