Warning signs of a brain tumor

August 15, 2018 | by Amaryllis Gil, MD

If you have a terrible headache that doesn’t seem to go away, two things may come to mind: a migraine or a brain tumor. Before you jump to conclusions, know that primary brain tumors, or tumors that start in the brain, are uncommon. So how do you know if it’s something to worry about?

Diagnosing a brain tumor is not that simple because the symptoms can vary depending on the type of tumor, its size and location. Sometimes a brain tumor can cause a variety of symptoms, but other times there are none.

Here are some of the most common symptoms of a brain tumor:

  • Headaches (may get worse over time or be worse in the morning)
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty thinking and/or speaking or disorientation
  • Changes in personality
  • Tingling or stiffness on one side of the body
  • Loss of balance or change in vision
  • Memory loss
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fatigue and muscle weakness
  • Anxiety or depression

Brain tumors can be both benign and malignant. In all, there are more than 120 different types of brain and central nervous system tumors. Secondary brain tumors, or tumors that begin elsewhere and spread to the brain, are more common than primary tumors.

Most of the time, the cause of a brain tumor is unknown, but the following factors may increase a person’s risk of developing a brain tumor:

  • Age. Brain tumors are more common in children and older adults, although people of any age can develop one.
  • Gender. Men are more likely than women to develop a brain tumor, but there are some specific types of brain tumors that are more common in women.
  • Exposure to products at home and at work like rubber, solvents or pesticides
  • Family history or race and ethnicity. In the U.S., Caucasians are more likely to develop gliomas but less likely to develop meningiomas than African Americans.
  • Exposure to infections, viruses and allergens or exposure to electromagnetic fields, like energy from power lines or cell phone use. (Currently, there is no consistent evidence that cell phone use can cause cancer.)
  • Head injuries or seizures
  • Previous treatment to the brain or head with ionizing radiation
  • Certain dietary compounds formed in the body from nitrates found in some cured meats, cigarette smoke and cosmetics. (More research is needed before a definitive link can be established.)

Research is continuing to be done on the cause of brain tumors, but at this time, there are no known ways to prevent a brain tumor through lifestyle change.

If you notice any changes in your health, including the above signs and symptoms, keep track of how you’re feeling and contact your physician. Your physician can help diagnose your condition through an imaging test like a magnetic resource imaging (MRI) or CT scan.

Learn about our Multidisciplinary Clinics for neurological cancer at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Related blogs:

Do concussions increase the risk for brain tumors?

When headaches can be brain tumors

How to tell if your headache is a migraine

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