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Brain cancer diagnosis and treatment

Brain cancer is when a tumor, or mass of abnormal cells, grows in the brain or on the spinal cord. Brain tumors rarely spread to other parts of the body, but many of them spread through the brain tissue. Therefore, even benign tumors can destroy and compress normal brain tissue as they grow. The main concern with brain and spinal cord tumors is how easily than can spread throughout the rest of the brain or spinal cord.

Common causes and risk factors

The majority of brain tumors have no clear cause and are not associated with any known risk. The following factors may increase the risk of brain tumors:

  • Radiation exposure
  • Immune system disorders


These symptoms may also be caused by other, less serious conditions, so it is important to talk to your doctor if you experience any of them:

  • Blurred vision
  • Seizures
  • Personality changes
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Balance problems

The brain controls functions of other organs, so brain tumors can cause a wide variety of symptoms.


If your symptoms suggest you may have a brain tumor, your doctor will ask for a complete medical history, including when your symptoms began. The doctor will also conduct a neurological exam, which tests alertness, reflexes, mouth and eye movement and other brain and spinal cord functions. If the results are abnormal, your doctor may order the following tests:

  • Image testing such as an MRI, CT and PET
  • Biopsy
  • Lumbar puncture (spinal tap)


Several different doctors and specialists are often required to treat brain cancer. Treatment is specific to each individual’s case.

  • Surgery is often used to remove the tumor.
  • Chemotherapy uses medicines to destroy cancer cells. You may receive it by mouth or through your veins.
  • Radiation therapy uses high-dose X-rays to destroy cancerous cells.
  • Targeted uses substances that target or block the biological process involved in a particular kind of cancer.