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What is an Adult Brain Tumor?

Each year, more than 43,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with an adult brain tumor.  There are more than 100 different types of adult brain tumors, which are caused by the formation of abnormal cell growths in the brain. Regardless of the form brain tumors take, the specialists at the Florida Hospital Brain and Spinal Cancer Program have the experience, skill and advanced treatments available to give you the best chance of beating your cancer and living a full, active life. Your journey toward wellness begins with having the best information available so you can begin to make informed decisions about your care. We have provided some important resources to familiarize you with adult brain tumors. For more information about adult brain tumors, or to schedule an appointment, call (407) 303-1700 or click here to fill out an online assistance form.

Causes of Adult Brain Tumors

The cause of most adult brain tumors is not known.

However, there are certain things that can increase the risk of developing a brain tumor, including exposure to certain chemicals or medical treatments or having a disease.

These risk factors don't mean that you'll certainly develop a brain tumor. They only put you at an increased risk, no matter how slight it may be.

Brain Tumor Risk Factors

  • Exposure to iodizing radiation therapy
  • Certain genetic syndromes, including:
    • Neurofibromatosis type 1 or 2
    • von Hippel-Lindau disease
    • Tuberous sclerosis
    • Li-Fraumeni syndrome
    • Turcot syndrome type 1 and type 2
    • Klinefelter syndrome
    • Nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome

Researchers are studying whether using cell phones or having a head injury are important risk factors. To date, studies have not shown consistent links between these possible risk factors and brain tumors, but additional research is needed.

If you have one or more of these risk factors you'll want to discuss them with your primary physician or one of the specialists at the Florida Hospital Brain and Spinal Cancer Program.

For more information about adult brain tumors, or to schedule an appointment, call (407) 303-1700 or click here to fill out an online assistance form.

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Symptoms of an Adult Brain Tumor

The signs and symptoms of a brain tumor vary and greatly depend on the size and location of the tumor. Symptoms may be caused when a tumor presses on a nerve or damages a certain area of the brain. They also may be caused when the brain swells or fluid builds up within the skull.

The most common signs and symptoms include:

Headaches

Headaches are a common initial symptom and are usually described as being worse in the morning, with gradual improvement throughout the day. The headaches may rouse the person from sleep and sometimes, upon awakening, cause the person to vomit. These headaches may worsen with coughing, exercise, or with a change in position such as bending or kneeling. They are also not typically responsive to over the counter headache remedies.

Seizures

Seizures are caused by a disruption in the normal flow of electricity in the brain, causing convulsions, unusual sensations, and loss of consciousness. Focal seizures are also a common symptom of a brain tumor. These include muscle twitching or jerking of an arm or leg, abnormal smells or tastes, problems with speech or numbness and tingling in extremities.

Mental and/or Personality Changes

Depending on where the tumor is located, changes in behavior, temperament and personality may occur. These problems can range from memory, speech, communication and concentration issues to severe intellectual problems and confusion.

Mass effect

The symptoms of mass effect include nausea and vomiting, drowsiness, vision problems such as blurred or double vision or loss of peripheral vision, and the headaches and mental changes already mentioned. Mass effect is caused by increased intracranial pressure (IICP) due to tumor growth or the accumulation/restriction of fluid. A swollen optic nerve is a clear sign of IICP and can be observed by an eye doctor. This sign is common in young children, in persons with slow growing tumors, with tumors in the posterior fossa, and in older patients.

Focal Symptoms

Focal symptoms can help identify the location of the brain tumor. These include ringing or buzzing sounds in the ears or hearing loss, decreased muscle control, lack of coordination, decreased tactile sensation, weakness or paralysis, difficulty with walking or speech, balance problems, or double vision.

If you or a loved one is experiencing these symptoms, discuss the possibility of a brain tumor with your physician. The symptoms are more often attributed to other illnesses but should be reviewed by a doctor to prevent growth and spreading. The Florida Hospital Cancer Institute Care Coordinators can help you get a referral should your doctor suspect a brain tumor is present. For more information about adult brain tumors, or to schedule an appointment, call (407) 303-1700 or click here to fill out an online assistance form.

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Tests to Diagnose an Adult Brain Tumor

As with most diseases, successful treatment of brain tumors begins with early detection and an accurate diagnosis. Based on your symptoms, the specialists at the Florida Hospital Brain and Spinal Cancer Program may recommend additional testing. These tests can be as basic as a physical exam to state-of-the-art diagnostics that can identify even the smallest tumor in the brain.

Following are the tests doctors at the Florida Hospital Brain and Spinal Cancer Program may utilize to determine the presence and extent of adult brain tumors:

  • Physical exam and history: As a first step, your primary physician or doctor at the Florida Hospital Brain and Spinal Cancer Program may begin with a general exam. This includes checking your general health and signs of disease or anything else that appears out of the ordinary. The doctor may also ask in-depth questions about your personal health habits, past exposure to risk factors, or family history to determine if additional testing is required.
  • Neurological exam: As part of your basic exam, your doctor may perform a neurological exam as well. This involves a series of questions and tests to check how your brain, spinal cord and nerves are functioning. Tests include your mental awareness, coordination, ability to walk and the overall state of your muscles, senses and reflexes.
  • Visual field exam: Vision issues can be one of the first indicators of a problem in the brain. A vision test checks central and peripheral vision. Any loss of vision may be a sign that a tumor has either damaged or pressed on parts of the brain that affect eyesight.
  • Tumor markers test: Blood, urine, spinal fluid or a tissue sample are examined to measure the amounts of certain substances that have been released into the blood by organs, tissues or tumor cells in the body. When substances linked to specific types of tumors are found in increased levels, they are known as tumor markers.
  • Gene testing: Changes in a specific chromosome can be used to detect the presence of certain types of brain tumors. This lab test uses a blood or tissue sample to identify these changes.
  • Cytologic analysis: Doctors at the Florida Hospital Brain and Spinal Cancer Program insert a small needle into the spinal column to collect a small amount of cerebrospinal fluid. This fluid is then viewed under a microscope by one of our pathologists to check for signs of cancer.
  • CT scan: Three-dimensional images are made of the region using computerized x-rays. A dye is first injected into a vein or swallowed to help organs and tissues show up more clearly.
  • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): An MRI uses magnetism, radio waves and a computer to generate images of the brain and spinal cord. Imagining specialists at the Florida Hospital Brain and Spinal Cancer Program begin by injecting gadolinium into a vein. This substance collects around the cancer cells so they appear brighter in the imaging. A procedure called a magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) may also be performed during the MRI to diagnose the chemical composition of the tumors.
  • SPECT scan (Single Proton Emission Computed Tomography scan): Using a special camera linked to a computer, the SPECT scan makes a three-dimensional picture of your brain. To enhance the imaging, a radioactive substance is added to your bloodstream. Areas with increased blood flow and more chemical reactions show where the cancer is growing.

If doctors at the Florida Hospital Brain and Spinal Cancer Program believe a brain tumor is present, they may recommend that a biopsy be performed. In a biopsy, a small window in the skull is created and a needle is used to remove a tissue sample. This tissue is viewed by a pathologist under a microscope who can then determine the presence of a tumor, if it is cancerous, and the type and grade.

Based on the results of these examinations and tests, your doctor will discuss treatment options with you if a tumor has been found, which can include surgeryradiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Grading Adult Brain Tumors

As most people today think of it, there is no standardized staging system for brain tumors in adults. Instead, doctors and pathologists work together to grade the tumor. A grade is given based on the way the tumor cells look under a microscope. Pathologists determine the tumor's growth rate, blood supply, presence of a dead cell center, invasive potential and similarity to normal cells.

Grade I - The tumor is slow growing and the cells look a lot like normal cells. The tumor rarely spreads to nearby tissues and there's a high probability that the entire tumor can be successfully removed during surgery.

Grade II - The tumor is growing slowly, but it may spread to nearby tissue and can come back. Some tumors may later become a higher grade tumor.

Grade III - The tumor grows quickly and is likely to spread into nearby tissue. The tumor cells look different from normal cells.

Grade IV - The tumor is growing and spreading very quickly and the cells no longer look like normal cells. Areas of dead cells may be present in the tumor. Grade IV tumors are much harder to treat and cure than lower grade tumors.

Tumors that begin in the brain may spread to other sections or even the spinal cord, but they rarely spread to other parts of the body. The treatment of brain tumors is based on the type of cells the tumor began in, its location in the central nervous system, and the grade of the tumor.

For more information about adult brain tumors, or to schedule an appointment, call (407) 303-1700 or click here to fill out an online assistance form.

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Treatment for an Adult Brain Tumor

Treatment for an adult brain tumor will vary depending on the specific case. As always, if you need more time to consider your options, you can always take more time. All patients are free to choose not to have treatment and our staff will explain what may happen if you decide to not have it. The following treatment options may be recommended for an adult brain tumor.

Surgery
Radiotherapy
Chemotherapy
Steroids

To learn more about an adult brain tumor, or to schedule an appointment, please call (407) 303-1700 or click here to fill out an online assistance form.

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