Brain Tumor Symptoms

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.

The above information was adapted from the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI’s) Web site.

Brain Tumor Diagnosis

Examinations and Tests

Members of Lahey’s Brain Tumor Clinic team—including a neurosurgeon, neuro-oncologist, neuropathologist and neuroradiologist—work collaboratively when evaluating a patient with a potential brain tumor diagnosis. One or more of the following examinations and tests may be performed:

  • Medical history: The patient provides information regarding any past and present health conditions so as to assist the physician in assessing his/her current health status.
  • Neurologic exam: The physician assesses alertness, muscle strength, coordination, reflexes and response to pain. An eye examination is also performed to check for swelling caused by a tumor pressing on the optic nerve (nerve that connects the eye and brain).
  • CT (computed tomography) scan: Using an X-ray machine that is linked to a computer, a series of detailed pictures of the head are taken to reveal any tumors present in the brain. The patient may receive an injection of a special dye (contrast dye) to make abnormal brain tissue easier to identify in the pictures.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): Detailed images of the brain are produced using magnetism, radio waves and a computer. Sometimes a special dye (gadolinium) is injected to help reveal differences in the tissues of the brain, including any tumors or other problems.

Biopsy and Tumor Resection

In addition to the examinations and tests discussed above, your neurosurgeon may perform a biopsy. Biopsy involves removing a small tissue sample to look for tumor cells. In some cases, the tissue sample is obtained by resecting (removing) the entire tumor. Obtaining tumor tissue is the only way to make a definitive brain tumor diagnosis.

Following a biopsy, the neuropathologist examines the cells under a microscope to check for abnormalities. The biopsy may reveal cancer, tissue changes that may lead to cancer, or other conditions.

Sometimes obtaining a tissue sample is not possible. If the tumor is located in the brainstem or other vital areas of the brain, the neurosurgeon may not be able to remove tissue from the tumor without damaging normal brain tissue. In these cases, MRI, CT and/or other imaging tests are used instead.