There are 2 major types of brain tumor which are the benign (non cancerous) and malignant (cancerous). Benign tumors are slow growing tumor and less likely to relapse after treatment. Malignant tumors are cancerous tumors which either start in the brain (primary) or aggresively spreads to other parts of the body.
Brain cancers include primary brain tumours, which start in the brain and almost never spread to other parts of the body, as well as secondary tumours (or metastases), which are caused by cancers that began in another part of the body.
Common benign tumours include meningiomas, neuromas, pituitary tumours and craniopharyngiomas, while common malignant tumours include astrocytomas, oligodendrogliomas, glioblastomas and mixed gliomas.
According to the World Health Organisation’s Globocan 2012 database, there were 786 incidences of brain and tumour cancer reported in Malaysia in 2012, comprising just 2.1% of all reported cancers in the same year. Of this 305 mortalities or 1.4% were reported. The five-year prevalence is 1.4% or 1147 cases recorded.
The symptoms of brain tumor varies from headaches, seizure, slurring of speech and paralysis depending on the region of brain affected. Persistent, severe headaches are often the first symptom of a brain tumour. However, it is important to note that headaches are not always the result of a brain tumour. Seek medical advice if any of the symptoms persists.
Other symptoms include difficulty speaking or remembering words; disturbed vision, hearing, smell or taste; severe or mild seizures; weakness or paralysis in parts of the body, loss of balance, drowsiness or a change in personality; and nausea and vomiting.
Diagnosis & Staging
A brain tumour diagnosis is usually done with imaging technology such as MRI and CT scans. Other tests that are sometimes used include magnetic resonance spectroscopy; PET scan; and lumbar puncture or spinal tap. Based on the results of the MRI, CT scans and other tests, a doctor can determine the stage of the cancer. Staging describes the size of the cancer and if and how far it has spread beyond the brain.
Brain tumours are usually graded on a scale of I to IV, based on how quickly they are growing and their ability to invade nearby tissue. Grades I and II are the slowest growing and are called low-grade tumours while grade IV is the fastest growing.
Brain tumours may be treated with surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy or steroid therapy, or a combination of these treatments. Some tumours can be removed completely by surgery (craniotomy).
Post-operative radiotherapy improves local control and survival. If a tumour cannot be removed, the aim of treatment is to slow growth and relieve symptoms by shrinking the tumour and any swelling around it.
Apart from the above, Radiosurgery (Cyberknife) System at Beacon Hospital enables precise dose distributions to be confidently delivered to the patient with extreme accuracy over a minimum number of treatments, reducing side effects and preserving patient’s quality of life. Unlike any other radiation delivery system, the Cyberknife technology continually tracks and automatically adjusts the beam for movement in real-time, as the patients breaths normally, throughout the entire treatment session. The system’s sub- millimetre accuracy enhances clinicians abilities to treat effectively while preserving health tissue. This could become an important treatment option especially treating brain structures with precision.
At Beacon Hospital’s Cancer Centre, treatment may comprise a number of healthcare professionals depending on the type of treatment. We adopt a multidisciplinary approach which include a physician, neurologist, neurosurgeon, cancer nurses, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist as well as other allied health professionals such as dietician, social worker, physiotherapists and speech and occupational therapists.
In some advanced cases of brain cancer, a medical team may recommend palliative care which aims to improve your quality of life by alleviating symptoms of cancer. As well as slowing the spread of brain cancer, palliative treatment can relieve pain and help manage other symptoms. Treatment may include radiotherapy, chemotherapy or other drug therapies.
An individual’s prognosis depends on the type and stage of cancer, as well as their age and general health at the time of diagnosis. For benign tumours that can be completely removed, cure is likely. For malignant tumours, outcomes depend on how slowly or quickly the tumour develops and response to treatment.
There are no proven measures to prevent brain cancer, however, it is best to seek for medical advice on regular health check-ups and screening.