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A brain tumor is an abnormal growth of tissue in the brain. The tumor can either originate in the brain itself (primary brain tumor), or come from another part of the body and travel to the brain (metastatic or secondary tumor). Brain tumors may be classified as either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous), depending on their behavior.

Malignant brain tumors contain cancer cells. Malignant brain tumors are usually fast growing and invade surrounding tissue. Malignant brain tumors very rarely spread to other areas of the body, but may recur after treatment. Sometimes, brain tumors that are not cancer are called malignant because of their size and location, and the damage they can do to vital functions of the brain.

Metastatic brain tumors are tumors that begin to grow in another part of the body, then spread to the brain through the lymph system and bloodstream. Common types of cancer that can travel to the brain include lung cancer, breast cancer, nasopharyngeal cancer, melanoma (a type of skin cancer), and colon cancer. These cancers are described and treated based on the specific type of cancer. For example, breast cancer that has spread to the brain is still called breast cancer.

Symptoms of brain cancer can vary depending on the size and location of the tumor(s). Nany symptoms are related to an increase in pressure in or around the brain. There is no extra space in the skull for anything other than the delicate tissues of the brain and its fluid. Any tumor, extra tissue or extra fluid can cause pressure on the brain and result in increased intracranial pressure, which may cause the following:

  • Headache
  • Vomiting (usually in the morning)
  • Nausea
  • Personality changes
  • Irritability
  • Drowsiness
  • Depression
  • Decreased cardiac and respiratory function and, eventually, coma if not treated

Symptoms of brain tumors in the cerebrum (outer part of the brain) may include:

  • Symptoms caused by increased intracranial pressure (above)
  • Seizures
  • Visual changes
  • Slurred speech
  • Paralysis or weakness on half of the body or face
  • Drowsiness and/or confusion
  • Personality changes/impaired judgment
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Gait disturbances
  • Communication problems

Symptoms of brain tumors in the brain stem (base of brain) may include:

  • Symptoms caused by increased intracranial pressure (above)
  • Seizures
  • Endocrine problems (diabetes and/or hormone regulation)
  • Visual changes or double vision
  • Headaches
  • Paralysis of nerves/muscles of the face, or half of the body
  • Respiratory changes
  • Clumsy, uncoordinated walk
  • Hearing loss
  • Personality changes

Symptoms of brain tumors in the cerebellum (back of brain) may include:

  • Symptoms caused by increased intracranial pressure (above)
  • Vomiting (usually occurs in the morning without nausea)
  • Headache
  • Uncoordinated muscle movements
  • Problems walking