Cancer of the brain and nervous system were ranked as eleventh most common cancer in males and thirteenth in females (Malaysian National Registry Report, 2007-2011).
Cancers of the brain are the consequence of abnormal growths of cells in the brain. There are 2 major types of brain tumour:
- Benign (non-cancerous) – Benign tumours are a slow-growing tumour and less likely to relapse after treatment. Common benign tumours include meningiomas, neuromas, pituitary tumours and craniopharyngiomas.
- Malignant (cancerous) – Malignant tumours are cancerous tumours which either start in the brain (primary) or aggressively spreads to other parts of the body. Common malignant tumours include astrocytomas, oligodendrogliomas, glioblastomas and mixed gliomas.
Types of brain cancers
The two types of brain cancers include:
- Primary brain tumours, which start in the brain and almost never spread to other parts of the body.
- Secondary tumours (or metastases), which are caused by cancers that began in another part of the body.
The exact cause of most brain tumours is unknown.
The following factors have been proposed as possible risk factors for primary brain tumours, but whether these factors actually increase an individual’s risk of a brain tumour is not known.
- Radiation to the head
- A hereditary (genetic) risk
- Cigarette smoking
- Environmental toxins (for example, chemicals used in oil refineries, embalming chemicals, rubber industry chemicals)
Brain cancer symptoms vary depending on the type, extent and location of the tumour, as well as the patient’s age and health history. The symptoms of a brain tumour include:
- Slurring of speech
- Paralysis depending on the region of the 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 persist.
Other symptoms include:
- Difficulty in speaking or remembering words
- Disturbed vision
- Smell or taste
- Severe or mild seizures
- Weakness or paralysis in parts of the body
- Loss of balance,
- Drowsiness or a change in personality
An accurate diagnosis is the first step in developing a brain cancer treatment plan. At Beacon Hospital, a multidisciplinary team of experts uses a variety of tests for diagnosing brain cancer, evaluating the disease and customizing a treatment plan based on each patient’s situation.
A brain tumour diagnosis is usually done with imaging technology such as:
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
- Computed Tomography (CT) scan
Other tests that are sometimes used include:
- Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
- Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan
- Lumbar puncture or spinal tap
Based on the results of the MRI, CT scans and other tests, a doctor can determine the grade of cancer. Grading describes the size of brain cancer and how far it has spread beyond the brain.
Grades of Brain Cancer
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.
Grade I: The tumour grows slowly and rarely spreads into nearby tissues.
Grade II: The tumour grows slowly but may spread into nearby tissues or recur.
Grade III: The tumour grows quickly, is likely to spread into nearby tissues, and the tumour cells look very different from normal cells.
Grade IV: The tumour grows and spreads very quickly, and the tumour cells do not look like normal cells.
Various treatments are used to treat brain cancer, including:
- Surgery – Surgery by an experienced neurosurgeon to remove the brain tumour.
- Radiotherapy – External beam radiation therapy (EBRT) to deliver high doses of radiation to destroy brain tumour cells and to relieve symptoms caused by the tumour.
Halcyon Radiotherapy System at Beacon Hospital enables:
- Fast and precise X-ray dose delivered to each tumour with high accuracy over a minimum number of treatment sessions
- Reduces unwanted radiation dose, thus, minimising side effects
Unlike any other radiation delivery system, the Halcyon technology’s beam-on time could be as fast as 1-minute plus. Its gantry rotates 4 times faster than a standard linear accelerator and its multi-leaf collimator (MLC) can move twice faster than traditional MLCs. All of these features help in improving the time it takes to treat the patients.
- Chemotherapy – is a treatment option that involves the use of drugs given by injection or orally to prevent the cancer cells’ ability from dividing and reproduce. It treats cancer by penetrating the tissues and organ via the bloodstream. These drugs are toxic to the cancer cells but they may also cause some side effects to the normal tissues.
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 the a clinical oncologist, medical oncologist, physician, neurologist, neurosurgeon, cancer nurses, as well as other allied health professionals such as dietician, physiotherapists, speech and occupational therapists.
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, a cure is likely.
- For malignant tumours, outcomes depend on how slowly or quickly the tumour develops and response to treatment.
Treatment options and best-estimated prognosis should be discussed with the patient’s doctor.