Your brain is the effective center of everything you perceive. Your physical actions, emotions, and experiences are all processed through your brain within the protective shell of your skull. Therefore, when a tumor begins to develop, it doesn’t present with the same symptoms that you might expect from a tumor located in a different region of your body. In other words, you can feel a brain tumor itself. You aren’t likely to find physical lumps, but your body will communicate its distress in ways that can sometimes be confused for a completely different condition.
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What are the Symptoms of a Brain Tumor?
Chronic headaches are the symptom that makes the most sense for a brain tumor, given its physical location. Still, you don't feel a brain tumor, but instead its effects on the body. However, as the central communication hub for your entire central nervous system, involuntary processes, and emotional life, damage to your brain is not limited to the confines of your skull. Even a noncancerous tumor putting pressure on parts of the tumor can cause a laundry list of symptoms that can dramatically affect a person’s life.
Depending on the location, size, and nature of the tumor, patients may experience several of the following symptoms:
- Changes in Personality
- Mood Swings
- Vision Problems
- Memory Loss
- Tingling of Stiffness (on one side of the body only)
- Loss of Balance
- Difficulty Concentrating
- Difficulty Communicating
- Confusion or Disorientation
- Loss of Coordination
- Muscle Weakness
It is a long and, honestly, frightening list. If you regularly experience any of these symptoms and do not have an underlying condition that explains them, you need to seek medical attention. Fortunately, the odds are in your favor, as less than one percent of people develop a malignant brain tumor during their lifetime. Even so, you should still see your doctor to determine the cause of your symptoms and treat your condition.
What if it’s Bad News?
If a brain tumor is causing your symptoms, then it is essential to do what you can to stay calm and take everything one step at a time. Your first step will be to contact a specialist. Find a reputable neurosurgeon in your area and contact your primary care physician and oncologist. Your neurosurgeon may have to do further tests based on what information has already been collected by the rest of your medical care team, but then they will be able to tell you three crucial things.
- Is the tumor malignant?
- Is it operable?
- Can radiation therapy be a possible treatment?
The answers to these three questions will determine what further action is possible. At this point, you can have a candid conversation with close family and friends if you haven’t already told them. Then you should move forward with treatment as soon as you can.
What to Expect from Treatment?
Your medical team’s approach to treatment will vary widely based on the type, size, and location of your brain tumor. Pre-existing medical conditions and age may also be factors that affect your treatment plan. However, there are some general aspects of brain tumor treatment that might help you prepare.
In many cases, your medical team will first try to shrink the tumor using radiation therapy. If successful, the treatment can reduce the pressure exerted on the brain and limit the resulting symptoms. Additionally, shrinking the tumor can sometimes make it easier to remove, reducing the risks of surgery. Surgical removal is another common step to treating brain tumors, as it is the most reliable way to prevent further growth. In the cases where removal is possible, your medical team will defer to your neurosurgeon.
Living Past Cancer
A cancer diagnosis is a life-changing event. We all worry about what it means for our future, our family, our life, but you can get past it. With advances in modern medicine and a compassionate team on your side, you can reduce cancer to a footnote in the story of your life.