Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

lahey male doctor in white on phone sitting with patientThe exact cause of brain tumors is yet unknown. Physicians, therefore, usually cannot explain why one person develops a brain tumor and another does not. However, research has shown that people with certain risk factors (e.g., family history, exposure to radiation or certain other chemicals, coexistence of a disease such as neurofibromatosis) are more likely than others to develop a brain tumor.

Brain tumor symptoms vary, depending on the tumor size, type and location. Symptoms may occur when a tumor damages a certain area of the brain or presses on a nerve. In addition, symptoms may be caused by tumor-related brain swelling or fluid buildup within the skull. The most common brain tumor symptoms include the following:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Changes in speech, vision or hearing
  • Problems balancing or walking
  • Changes in mood, personality or the ability to concentrate
  • Problems with memory
  • Numbness or tingling in the arms or legs

The above symptoms are not always indicative of a brain tumor, as they may be caused by other conditions. In fact, brain tumor symptoms often mimic the symptoms of other diseases, and vice versa. You should be evaluated by your physician if you are concerned about any of the symptoms listed above.

Not all patients with brain tumors experience seizures, but some do. If you have never had a seizure, there is a good chance you never will.

There are many different types of seizures. The type of seizure depends on the location of the brain tumor. Some of the more common types of seizures, which usually do not occur with loss of consciousness, include:

  • Involuntary shaking of an arm or leg
  • Facial twitching
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Detection of unpleasant odors that no one else senses
  • One type of seizure, a generalized tonic-clonic seizure, involves total body shaking with loss of consciousness

Patients who have experienced a seizure are put on anti-seizure (anti-epileptic) medication. Some of the more common medications used are Dilantin, Keppra, Depakote and Tegretol. Your physician will determine the most appropriate medication and dosage for you.

Brain tumors are cancerous in some cases, but not all. Malignant (high-grade) brain tumors contain cancer cells, but benign (low-grade) brain tumors do not. In very rare cases, some benign brain tumors later develop into cancer.

Two of the most common forms of brain cancer are metastatic brain tumors (cancers that have spread to brain tissue from elsewhere in the body) and glioblastoma multiforme, or GBM (the most aggressive form of gliomas-primary brain tumors arising from glial cells in the brain).

Generally speaking, a benign tumor or condition is not harmful. However, that is not the case with anything growing in the brain, including benign tumors. There is a confined space within the skull, meaning it cannot expand to accommodate a growing tumor. Therefore, as they grow, benign brain tumors have the potential to become life threatening due to pressure on the brain. Fortunately, benign tumors generally grow slowly and rarely grow back after being surgically removed. Depending on the location and size of the tumor, however, benign brain tumors can sometimes be difficult to treat.

Patients with benign and malignant brain tumors and long-term survivors often experience fatigue. Treatment-including surgery, radiation and chemotherapy-can add to fatigue, as can trauma to the brain due to the presence of a tumor, regardless of whether it has been surgically removed or not.

To help manage fatigue, listen to what your body is telling you. If you are doing something and begin to feel tired, stop and rest. Taking naps will help give your brain and body the energy they need, both during and following treatment. It is much better to rest than to try to push yourself too hard.

It is also a good idea to learn to identify the triggers that cause your fatigue. Being aware of your own limitations will allow you to better manage feelings of tiredness. It can be very frustrating for those who are unable to maintain the same level of activity as before they were diagnosed with a brain tumor. However, it is crucial that you allow yourself plenty of time to recover before you begin placing high expectations upon yourself.

If you are experiencing fatigue, be sure to address your symptoms with members of your care team so they can provide you with available treatment options. In addition, it may help to talk with other brain tumor patients through support group meetings. It is likely they are dealing with fatigue and other symptoms similar to yours, and they may be able to help by offering coping strategies that have worked well for them.

family with brain tumor physicians male in middle with blue shirt vent in ceilingIt is difficult to summarize a single approach to coping, as each patient, family and brain tumor is different. Generally speaking, however, the brain tumor experience is a journey into scary and uncertain territory, from diagnosis through recovery. There is a lot to learn and cope with both physically and emotionally. It can be especially difficult for family members of a brain tumor patient, as they need to find the strength to be caring and supportive while also trying to manage their own fears.

Researching brain tumors will help you and your family members become informed. The more information you know about your condition and the more you understand about each aspect of your treatment, the less uncertainty there will be. Making an effort to maintain as positive an outlook as possible toward your condition and treatment can be very important. Having hope and believing in the power of healing can help empower you and your loved ones to look past the present and into the future.