Brain tumour: Myths vs facts

Today, the cases of brain tumour are no longer uncommon. There has been an increase in incidents of brain tumour cases in India with around 40,000 to 50,000 cases diagnosed every year. However, it is important to understand that many brain tumours can be treated and on numerous occasions, multi modalities — surgery, radiation and chemotherapy — can be used to do the same.

 Tumour is an uncontrolled growth of a group of cells. One of the most challenging and complex tumours is the brain tumour. Early detection makes treatment and surgery more effective, and presents better outcomes and thus it is important to understand and identify its early symptoms. Signs of brain tumours usually include unusual headaches, nausea and vomiting, blindness, facial paralysis, motor disease and sleep disturbance, etc. However due to misinformation, there are lots of misconceptions prevailing among the general masses about this disease. These stop people from getting diagnosed and prevent early care. Here are some common myths and facts related to brain tumour.

Myth: All brain tumours are the same.

Fact: There are over 120 types of brain tumours. Brain tumours are characterised based on the size, location, cell of origin, and grade of tumours.

Myth: Everyone suffering from brain tumours have the same symptoms.

Fact: Although there are some common symptoms, not all individuals have the same signs. Every patient diagnosed with a brain tumour will have diverse symptoms. While some do not show symptoms that would indicate a tumour, others may showcase signs that become worse with time. Others still may experience a sudden onset of symptoms, such as a seizure which leads to a quick and unexpected tumour diagnosis.

Myth: All brain tumours are cancerous.

Fact: Not all brain tumours are cancerous. Some tumours are benign which means they do not spread to other organs or damage surrounding cells or tissues, whereas others can be cancerous in nature. Brain tumours can be benign or cancerous and are classified and named depending on the type of cells involved.

Myth: Only old people get brain tumours.

Fact: Tumours can occur at any age. Brain tumours like ‘Craniopharyngioma’, ‘Germinoma’ are more common in younger adults. Children can also develop brain tumours like medulloblastoma, ependymoma, etc.  Brain Tumours like ‘Menigiomas’ are more common in women aged between 30-50 years. Most lethal malignant brain tumours like ‘Glioblastoma Mutiformae’ can occur in adolescents and at an old age.

Myth: Lifestyle modification can prevent brain tumours.

 Fact: Lifestyle changes cannot prevent brain tumours. However, they are good for the overall health of an individual. Daily exercises, balanced diet including high fibre content and avoidance of smoking, tobacco chewing and alcohol consumption are good for health.

Myth: Brain tumours run in the family.

Fact: Some may think if no one in the family has cancer, then we have no risk of the tumour. Mutations inherited from parents cause only about 5-10% of tumours, but the remaining 90- 95% of cancer is caused by mutations that occur during a person’s life.

Myth: Exposure to electromagnetic fields causes Brain tumours.

Fact: Most studies evaluating the role of electromagnetic fields, such as energy from power lines or from cell phone use, show no link to an increased risk of developing a brain tumour. However, it is advisable to limit cell phone usage both for adults and children.

Myth: Once a patient completes treatment, life gets back to normal.

 Fact: When benign tumours are removed surgically, they rarely recur, except for some cases where they can occur after 10 to 15 years. Routine follow-up care is needed to rule out recurrences of the tumour. One has to modify life accordingly and follow the surgeon’s advice. The cancerous tumours may recur and present a challenge to the patient and the doctor.

Today, with the advances in diagnosis and treatment, even the most malignant brain tumour patients can survive and live for years. However, it is important to remember that early diagnosis and proper treatment provides better results.  

The author is a senior neurosurgery consultant.

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