Brain Cancer

What is Brain Cancer?

When the brain cells start growing abnormally, it results in brain cancer. Brain cancers are metastatic tumors. The tumor cells start from other body parts. From there the cells reach the brain. They can affect different skull tissues. These can be the brain, meninges, cranial nerves, pineal gland, and pituitary gland. The prognosis for brain cancer is medium and bad. It depends on the cancer type and the overall health of the patient. Prognosis among children is slightly better.

Brain-related illnesses have increased across the globe. Medulloblastoma is a brain cancer found in children. It spreads through their cerebrospinal fluid or CSF. They metastasize to separate locations within the spinal cord and brain. This brain cancer impacts more than 2500 children every year in India. While the statistics are alarming, only few people get brain cancer every year. The rate of survival is promising if the diagnosis is early. Age is a crucial aspect of survival rates. The 5-year rate of survival for people below the age of 15 years is 75%. For those between ages 15 years and 39 years, it is around 72%. As such, both age and time increase recovery chances.

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    Types

    Experts have identified more than twelve different brain tumor types. These can be lesions, cysts, or tumors. These are distinguished based on their occurrence and cell make-up. WHO (World Health Organization) has devised a grading and classification system for these brain tumors. This is to standardize the communication among healthcare networks across the globe. The grading helps in better therapy planning and forecasting structured and systematic outcomes.

    Primary brain cancer develops within the brain and stays there

    Secondary brand cancer is more prevalent compared to primary brain cancer. They develop elsewhere in our bodies and then spread to our brains. These malignancies can originate in the kidney, breast, lung, prostate, or skin. These are the primary tumors that spread within the brain.

    Each tumor does not necessarily result in brain cancer. However, it is important to remain vigilant regarding any abnormality or growth. This helps in avoiding any future complications. While some tumors are malignant, others are not:

    Cancer cells are usually absent in benign tumors. They are slow developing and are removed easily. They rarely infect the adjacent brain tissues. Yet, these cells can be threatening based on their location.

    Cancer cells are present in malignant tumors. While the growth rate is different, cells can infiltrate the healthy brain tissues. However, these infections rarely move beyond the spinal cord and the brain.

    More on Brain Tumors

    Brain cancer can be sub-divided into two major categories. This is based on origin.

    Meningiomas: Adults are more prone to this brain tumor type. It is more common among individuals between the ages of 70 and 80 years. The tumor starts in the lining of the brain called the meninges. These can be of different grades such as one, two, three. These are non-cancerous & metastasis is rare.

    Glioma: It is a common tumor type that develops inside the brain. It can also spread outside the brain and inside our spinal cord. Gliomas comprise one-third of entire brain tumors. This tumor is caused due to glial cells. These cells gather around neurons and support them in developing these malignancies. Glial cells can be of many sizes and shapes. These can be:

    • Astrocytomas: These are benign brain tumors developing from adjacent brain cells. They can be found in children or young adults. Surgery is applicable if the doctor can remove the entire cancer cells.
    • Oligodendrogliomas: The nerves have a protective layer of cells around them. This tumor develops around these protective cells. They grow slowly and rarely spread to the surrounding tissues.
    • Glioblastomas: It is an extremely aggressive form of cancer.

    There are also other common brain cancer types. These are:

    • Schwannoma (neuroma)
    • Craniopharyngioma
    • Pinealoma
    • Pituitary adenoma
    • Lymphoma
    • Epidermoid

    Children are more prone to these tumor types:

    Medulloblastoma: This tumor develops inside the cerebellum. This is a grade-four-level tumor.

    Ependymoma: The central canal and ventricles of our spinal cord is made of cell lining. This tumor develops in these cell linings. Young adults and children are prone to this cancer. It can be of first, second as well as third grade.

    Astrocytoma: It is a low-grade tumor that is found anywhere within the brain of youngsters. This tumor is of first-grade level.

    Brainstem Glioma: This tumor is found in the brain’s lowest part. It develops in a considerable number of young children. It can be a high-grade or low-grade tumor.

    Causes

    Primary brain cancer can arise from diverse types of brain tissues. When cancer spreads to the spinal cord or brain from other body organs, it is called metastatic cancer. The cause of this transition from benign to malignant tumor is unknown. Few risk factors increase the chances of acquiring brain cancer. These risk factors are:

    Age: Older people are more prone to developing a brain tumor. The age factor is dependent on the location and type of the cells. Adults have a lower risk of developing gliomas. Adults above age 50 years have higher chances of developing meningiomas. Yet, the tumors have been documented to develop at all ages.

    Immunity: Low immunity increases the risk of developing brain cancer. When the immune system is compromised, medications for a brain tumor are of little help. Some people have low immunity due to congenital conditions.

    Gender: Some brain cancers are more specific to a particular gender. Meningiomas have higher changes occurring in women compared to men. Men are more likely to develop medulloblastomas compared to women.

    Family History: Brain cancer being passed from one generation to another is rare. Yet, there are few families with multiple brain cancer cases.

    Radiation: People receiving high X-ray dosages can cause cell damage. This can result in brain tumors. Those receiving radiation therapies are also prone to brain cancer.

    Other Exposures: Solvents or industrial chemicals are linked with higher chances of brain cancer. People working in rubber manufacturing, oil refining, or medication manufacturing are more exposed to brain tumor risks. However, the clear proof is lacking in this aspect.

    Grades

    Brain cancer is classified based on cell appearance. It can be aberrant or normal cells appearance. Doctors prepare treatment plans based on these observations. Staging helps in estimating the duration of cancer spread. The different grades of brain cancer are:

    Grade 1: In this stage, brain cancer is low-grade and slow growing. They can easily gel with the healthy cells in this stage.

    Grade 2: The tumor cells have become cancerous and are progressing slowly. The recurrence rate is high with a high chance of spreading to surrounding tissues.

    Grade 3: The tumors have become aberrant and metastasizing aggressively. They have reached the nearby brain areas with high recurrence rates.

    Grade 4: The tumors have become extremely aggressive in this stage. They are actively spreading to the surrounding tissues. They can also turn benign tumors into malignant ones. Similarly, lower-grade cancer can recur after becoming high-grade cancer in this stage.

    Diagnosis

    Early diagnosis includes an interview with the healthcare expert. This involves a physical exam and medical history. After the initial interview, your doctor will decide on the type and number of tests. These can be:

    Imaging Tests: Imaging tests can be MRI, PET Scan, CT, or ECT scan. They determine the cause, location, and stage associated with the tumor’s progression.

    Biopsy: In a biopsy, a tissue sample is removed from the infected area. It is then examined to determine the malignancy. Biopsies are in diverse ways. These can be a laparoscopic biopsy, needle biopsy as well as a surgical biopsy. Biopsies can be further categorized into two types:

    • Stereotactic biopsy: involves using a laser for examination of the cells.
    • Surgical biopsy. It is also called an open biopsy. This biopsy is preferred when needle biopsy is not possible. The tumorous tissues are removed in this biopsy. The procedure of removing cancerous cells entirely is called debulking.

    Treatment

    Treatment facilities are based on cancer grade, type, size, location as well as age of the patient, and underlying conditions. Treatment plans usually include a multidisciplinary tactic involving several treatment types. These can be: 

    Treatment is determined by cancer’s type and grade, its location, size, and the patient’s age and condition. A multidisciplinary approach to treatment is when a treatment plan includes multiple types of treatment.

    Surgery: Surgery is the initial treatment stage. Surgery is often preferred for first-grade cancers since it is easy to remove them. Surgery can also minimize the size of the tumor or alleviate the symptoms.

    Chemotherapy: This therapy is used for eliminating the cancer cells from the brain. Chemotherapy can be administered intravenously or orally. In rare cases, wafers are implanted within the brain.

    Targeted Therapy: This therapy is used for specific types of brain cancers. Specific parts of the cancer cells are targeted by these medications. They aid in preventing the growth of tumors and their dissemination.

    Immunotherapy: Some immunotherapies for treating lung cancer are known to be affected by melanoma brain cancers.

    Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy uses radiation for killing the tumor cells in the target area. Radiation can be an option if surgery is not.

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