Warning signs that you may have a brain tumour

Your skull is hard and your brain is soft, so as a tumour grows it has nowhere to go.

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
  • seizures
  • changes in thinking or personality
  • difficulty controlling movement
  • dizziness
  • 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.



    To make a comment, please register or login
    7th Feb 2019
    I have been suffering with most of these systems for some time now and getting more intense. My doctor sent me for scans of Head, Brain and Upper Spine last week. All came back clear except they found Arthritic damage in my upper spine which was the cause all my problems.
    Waiting to retire at 70
    7th Feb 2019
    Although 'arthritic damage' wouldn't be pleasant, I'm glad for you that it wasn't cancer. Hang in there.
    Old Geezer
    7th Feb 2019
    Sounds like the symptoms one is left with after having chemo to me.
    Fluffy Duck
    7th Feb 2019
    My husband's symptoms were loss of balance and weakness on the left side. No headaches. He was diagnosed with lung cancer with a secondary tumour in the brain. That's often the only way lung cancer is detected.
    7th Feb 2019
    June 2016: No symptoms then a sudden seizure (?) and immediate diagnosis of a Meningioma (Brain Tumour). Operated on 4 July with tumour found to be non- malignant, good recovery but also some small cognitive issues. Peeps check with GP if you have any symptoms and follow their plan and advice. Better to have the occasional sore head after op and be able to warn others than to suffer in silence. Pity the research is so dated. Cheers and good health to all
    7th Feb 2019
    I have a brain tumour (non cancerous) and the only symptom was double vision. The first doctor I saw did nothing. I went to the optician who immediately sent me to a specialist. I had an MRI and the tumour was diagnosed. I had 28 consecutive days of radiotherapy which has stopped it from growing. A few years on, all is well.
    20th Feb 2019
    That was very lucky for you!
    My mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia late in life and medicated accordingly which had little if no effect until she fell out of bed and was hospitalized.
    Upon speaking to one of the doctors there in Frankston hospital, I had asked whether she had a brain scan.
    Apparently not so I requested for one to be done with the result of a few brain tumours being present.
    The doctor said they were metastases so I requested that another scan be done which found a 4 x 7cm. malignant tumour on the anterior wall outside of her left kidney!
    Nowadays, brain scans are more regularly performed on psychiatric patients to rule out that possibility!

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