A brain tumor is an abnormal growth of tissue in which the cells have started to multiply uncontrollably. Tumors can be classified into two main types, benign and malignant (cancerous).
Benign tumors that originate in the brain are noncancerous and cannot spread to another part of the body. This type of tumor is usually slow growing. Malignant brain tumors are more difficult to treat. This type of tumor, also known as brain cancer, grows more rapidly, usually destroying surrounding brain tissue. Malignant brain tumors can be further classified as primary or secondary tumors. Primary brain tumors originate in the brain and rarely spread to other parts of the body. Primary brain tumors are named from the cells in which they originate. Examples of primary tumors include astrocytomas, oligodendroglioma, and gangliogliomas.
Secondary brain tumors, or brain metastases, originate from cancer cells in another part of the body that have spread to the brain from such regions as the lungs or breasts. They may appear anywhere in the brain, but most commonly at the junction of gray matter and white matter.
Several minimally invasive treatments for brain tumors are available at UPMC, offering benefits such as minimal scarring, fewer side effects and complications, and faster recovery. These include the Endoscopic Endonasal Approach (EEA) to reach tumors at the base of the skull and upper spine, and Neuroendoport® Surgery to reach tumors within the substance of the brain (the parenchyma) or within the fluid spaces of the brain (the ventricles).
Your physician will perform a physical exam and ask about your symptoms. Symptoms may vary depending on the size and location of the tumor.
Symptoms may include:
- frequent headaches
- loss of appetite
- changes in personality
- memory problems
In addition to a physical exam, your physician may request imaging studies such as MRI or CT scans.
Once a brain tumor has been identified, a biopsy may be performed to look for cancer cells. A pathologist will review the sample to determine if the tumor is cancerous.
Treatments vary depending on the type and location of the tumor. The three standard treatments are surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Your physician may recommend one or a combination of these treatments.
Brain tumors are removed surgically whenever possible. The type of procedure depends on the size and location of the tumor. Several minimally invasive surgical options allow UPMC surgeons to access areas that previously were difficult or impossible to reach.
The Endoscopic Endonasal Approach (EEA) is an innovative approach to surgery that takes advantage of the nose and nasal cavities as natural pathways to the tumor. EEA is appropriate for tumors at the base of the skull or upper spine, including meningiomas, pituitary adenomas, and many others.
Neuroendoport® Surgery offers a minimally invasive option for deep-seated tumors within the substance of the brain or within the ventricles (fluid-filled spaces). A narrow tube or port allows doctors to access tumors such as gliomas or brain metastases through a tiny incision in the skull, in contrast to conventional brain surgery.
At UPMC, we take a 360° Approach to treatment when evaluating each patient—looking at their conditions from every direction—to find the path that is least disruptive to the patient's brain, critical nerves, and ability to return to normal functioning. Our neurosurgical team may recommend a combination of surgical and non-surgical approaches to maximize the benefits of surgery while minimizing risks.
Radiation is commonly used to treat brain tumors, since surgery isn't always an option. Radiation therapy may be delivered externally by directing radiation at the tumor from an outside source, internally by placing radioactive material directly in the body near the cancer, or using stereotactic radiosurgery to deliver a concentrated dose of radiation directly to the brain tumor.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells. Depending on the type and stage of the cancer, chemotherapy may be taken by mouth, as an injection, or placed directly into the brain tumor site.