In 2019, almost 140,000 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in Australia, affecting about 75,000 males and 65,000 females. Some will result in brain tumours, and a brain tumour may be the first indication that there is cancer somewhere else in the body.
The number of new cases of brain cancer increased in 1982 from 853 to 1710 cases in 2014, according to Cancer Australia.
Half of all brain cancers start as lung cancer, and breast, colon and kidney cancers as well as leukaemia, lymphoma and melanoma can spread to the brain.
But what are the tell-tale signs?
Your skull is hard and your brain is soft, so as a brain tumour grows it has nowhere to go. But there are likely to be warning signs.
A tumour can affect how you think, see and feel. Common symptoms of brain cancer include:
- severe headaches, which may or may not be accompanied by nausea and vomiting
- weakness on one side of the body
- changes in thinking or personality
- difficulty controlling movement
- feeling sleepy throughout the day
- finding it hard to express yourself, such as being unable find the right words or feeling confused
- having problems seeing, such as blurred or doubled vision
- losing your balance easily or having problems walking.
There are multiple conditions that may cause these symptoms, not just brain cancer. However, if you experience any of these symptoms, you should visit your GP.
He or she will probably start by checking your nervous system, in particular, your vision, balance and reflexes. You may need a scan, such as an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), CT (computerised tomography, or PET (positron emission tomography) scan. Those results may indicate a biopsy is required to take a sample of the tumour to learn more about it.
Brain tumours occur at any age, but children and adults tend to get different types and tumours are much more common in adults over 50 than in younger adults.
Research to date is yet to pinpoint what puts you at risk of a primary brain tumour although radiation directed at the heade to treat another medical condition is a known culprit. A family history of tumours as well as a weak immune system are also contributing factors.
Mobile phones have long been suspected of causing brain tumours but a new analysis of 16,800 brain cancer cases in Australia stretching back to the early 1980s definitively shows the answer is no, according to a study led by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) and published in the latest BMJ Open.
Treatment will depend on the size, type and location of the tumour and may involve one of the following: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or targeted therapy which involves the use of drugs to block cancer cells from doing what they need to survive.
The Cancer Council in your state or territory can give you general information about cancer, as well as information on resources and support groups in your local area. You can call the Cancer Council Helpline for the cost of a local call on 13 11 20. Brain Tumour Alliance Australia can also help you deal with the challenges of cancer.
Have you or a loved one experienced a brain tumour? Were there warning signs? What were they?
Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.