World Brain Tumor Day is observed on June 8 every year to raise awareness and educate people about brain tumours. It’s a day when the world pays tribute to individuals fighting brain tumours and stands in solidarity with their families and loved ones. The day was first commemorated by the German Brain Tumor Association in the year 2000. Later, the United Nations declared it a global event to encourage research about brain tumours.
What Exactly Is Tumor?
Before we get to know about brain tumours, let’s first understand what tumour means. According to the National Cancer Institute of America, a tumour is an abnormal mass of tissue that forms when cells grow and divide more than they should or do not die when they should. In other words, a tumour is an abnormal new growth of tissues that possesses no physiological function and arises from uncontrolled usually rapid cellular proliferation.
It can be of two types:-
1. Benign tumours
Benign tumours are non-cancerous in nature. They stay in one place and do not spread to other parts of the body. They usually have well-defined borders which makes them easier to be removed. Once treated, benign tumours don’t regrow. They are usually not problematic but can become large and compress the organs around them, thereby causing complications and thus need to be removed.
2. Malignant tumours
Malignant tumours are cancerous. They start growing uncontrollably and affect other organs of the body. Cells from the primary tumour can break away and travel to distant body parts through the bloodstream or lymphatic system. This type of tumour can be life-threatening and require urgent attention. Early detection, timely treatment and regular follow-up are the keys to its treatment.
Brain tumours can be of both these types and demand different treatments depending on the location and their severity. In the case of benign brain tumours too, it is better to get it removed as early as possible because its growth can impair the surrounding nerves and tissues leading to severe brain damage that may prove to be fatal.
What Causes Brain Tumors?
There are two types of brain tumours based on how they develop
1. Primary Brain Tumor
Primary brain tumours originate in the brain itself or tissues close to it. They occur when regular cells change their DNA. A cell’s DNA contains information for a cell to behave a particular way. The changes or mutations interfere with that information. This confuses the cells and as a result, they grow and divide rapidly and to continue living they should ideally die. The result is a mass of abnormal cells called a tumour.
2. Metastatic Brain Tumor
This type of tumour, also called a secondary tumour, originates in another part of the body and then infects or metastasises the brain. They are always malignant in nature. Secondary brain tumours most often happen to people with a history of cancer. Among all types of cancer, the ones that have the highest risk of metastasising into brain cancer are lung cancer, breast cancer, kidney cancer and skin cancer.
There are several studies under progress that gauges the exact cause of brain tumours. However, doctors have identified a few plausible reasons for it. People who are exposed to certain types of radiation like ionising radiation are more likely to develop tumours. Individuals with a family history of brain tumours or genetic syndromes are at a higher risk of being diagnosed with similar conditions. Research is being undertaken to know more about tumours for their prevention and cure.
Signs and Symptoms
Here are the few common and identifiable symptoms of a tumour in the brain
1. Persistent or Recurring Headaches
These headaches are worse after getting up from sleep and occur when one sneezes, coughs or exercises. Over time, the headaches become frequent and severe.
2. Eye problems
Blurred, double or loss of peripheral vision. Drooping eyelids and unequal pupils are also signs of tumours.
3. Disturbed mental functioning
Decreased alertness, and difficulty concentrating. It may also cause mild memory loss and confusion. One may experience frequent and unreasonable changes in mood and emotions.
4. Losing control over body functions
Loss of balance, difficulty walking, hand tremors or uncontrolled movements make one clumsy. It even leads to numbness or tingling on one side of the body. One may also lose control over the bladder and bowel.
5. Unexplained nausea, fatigue and vomiting
As the tumour grows larger, it causes hormonal imbalance and increases pressure on the brain causing one to feel nauseous and vomit. Tumor cells compete for nutrients often at the expense of normal cell growth making one feel fatigued.
6. Reduced ability to taste, smell, hear or speak properly
Not being able to smell things other, or noticing a reduced sense of smell. Things start to smell different or certain smells are stronger. Having a bitter or metallic taste in the mouth. Food may taste too salty or sweet. Pressure on nerves may lead to difficulty in hearing like muffling of speech or difficulty understanding words, especially against background noise or in a crowd.
Seizures may have varied symptoms like intense uncontrolled emotions, hallucinations, a rising sensation in the stomach, muscle stiffness and twitches, convulsions to even loss of consciousness.
Diagnosis And Treatment
Diagnosis of the brain tumour starts with a highly detailed neurological examination. Subsequent procedures include MRI tests, CT scans, angiography, skull X-ray or biopsy. The treatment of a brain tumour depends on the general health of the patient and factors like type, size and location of the tumour. The most common treatment is surgery. Surgery can be coupled with other treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy. There are a number of other therapies like speech therapy, physical therapy and occupational therapy that help the patient recover better.
The Emotional Trauma
In our article Kinship Of Physical, Mental And Social Health Keeping You Fit, we explained how being diagnosed with a serious disease such as cancer can lead to depression or anxiety issues. Around one-third of people with serious medical conditions have symptoms of depression, such as low mood, sleep problems, and a loss of interest in activities. Cancer causes an emotional disbalance leaving the patient baffled and unworthy. People may find themselves disconnected from their loved ones, unable to express how they feel and what they’re going through.
Another aspect of this disease is the cost of its treatment which leads to a financial burden. The medication process is considerably expensive making a family exhaust their entire income to even life savings. All this makes the patient feel responsible and can cause a loss in the will to fight the illness. Patients with such a grave illness need a lot of motivation and support. Talk to them and be as understanding as you can. Keep the atmosphere around them cheerful. Keep reminding them how important they are to you. Believe in the power of hope.
Here are a few coping strategies that will help both the patients and those who care for them at difficult times.