Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors
Tumors in the brain and spinal cord are called Central Nervous System Tumors. These tumors are either benign or malignant. There are different parts of the brain and symptoms are dependent upon where the tumor lies. Benign tumors are not usually life-threatening, but if it is sitting in a specific area of the brain, you will still have symptoms that could affect your quality of life. The spinal cord contains a lot of nerves. A tumor on the spinal cord may rest on a nerve and cause pain. It may even cause numbness and weakness in certain parts of the body. Although there is no cure for cancer, there are available treatments for both brain and spinal cord tumors.
Structure of the Brain
The brain and spinal cord are a part of the central nervous system. The skull protects the brain, and the vertebrae protect the spinal cord. The brain has different components, but there are three main parts. The cerebrum is the largest part of the brain and the lies in the front of the brain. The cerebrum controls emotions, speech, cognitive thinking, and voluntary movements. The cerebellum is in the middle of the head, but it is primarily in the back. The cerebellum controls movement, posture, and balance. The final part of the brain is the brain stem. The brain stem lies in the very back of the head. The brain stem connects the brain to the spinal cord. The brain stem controls involuntary actions. The brain stem primarily controls breathing and heart rate. The brain stem also controls muscles and nerves for eating, seeing, walking, talking, and eating. The spinal cord contains a lot of nerves and sends messages to the rest of the body.
Tumors are an abnormal growth of cells. Once they are discovered, doctors must determine whether or not the tumor is malignant or benign. Malignant tumors have a tendency to spread very quickly. Since the brain and spinal cord are connected, cancer will spread easily to each one. Benign tumors are not as serious and do not typically spread, but it can cause symptoms depending on the location of the tumor. There is not a lot of room between the skull and brain, so tumors tend to put pressure on the brain. Tumors in the brain rarely spread throughout the body, but it will spread throughout the brain and destroy the different parts of the brain. The symptoms of malignant tumors are life-threatening.
When you have a brain tumor, you tend to get a lot of headaches, particularly in the morning. Vomiting is also common. The senses are also affected. Vision, hearing, and speech are sometimes affected because of the pressure put on those areas that control them. Behavior changes. Different parts of the brain control your attitude. Sometimes people become depressed or easily angered. Their emotions are not always stable. Balance is off, and walking becomes difficult. Many people with brain tumors have seizures. Spinal cord tumors have a different set of symptoms. Most spinal cord tumors cause back pain that spreads to the extremities. Spinal cord tumors may also cause weakness which leads to trouble walking. Urination and bowel movements tend to change as well.
There are many different types of brain and spinal cord tumors. The most common types are:
- Germ Cell
- Mixed Gliomas
- Ependymal Tumors
- Meningeal Tumors
These tumors range in severity, and they are named based on the cell type they develop from. Some tumors have a better prognosis than others, especially when it is caught in the early stages. Other tumors spread very quickly and are considered very lethal.
There are many risk factors for both brain and spinal cord cancer. Exposure to certain substances like vinyl chloride may cause brain cancer. Radiation therapy in the brain or spine will also put you at risk for tumors. Sometimes heredity plays a role in the formation of tumors. If brain or spinal cord tumors run in the family, you may also be at risk. Certain diseases and infections may lead to tumors. HIV and organ transplants are common things associated with tumors.
Spinal cord and brain tumors are diagnosed through a physical exam as well as a neurological exam. The doctor will also do imaging test like CT scans and MRIs to view the location and the size of the tumor. Treatment is dependent on the size, location, and type of tumor you have. If you have a benign tumor, the doctor may only prescribe medication to relieve you of your symptoms. If the tumor is small, they could use radiation therapy to get rid of it. Larger tumors may require an operation. The doctor will open the skull and remove the tumor. Brain surgery is very risky so it is not done on every tumor because it can cause more harm.
Brain and spinal cord tumors can change your whole life. They affect your quality of life and even your personality. When you are diagnosed with any tumor, it is important to know if it is malignant or benign. The type of tumor determines the next step of treatment. An early diagnosis can save your life. If you are experiencing symptoms of a brain or spinal cord tumor, make an appointment with a physician right away. Do not ignore your symptoms. The worst thing you can do is let a brain tumor spread. Pay attention to your body. A lot of times your body is telling you something is wrong; all we have to do is listen.
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