Types of Brain Tumors – Very Different Outcomes
There are many different types of brain tumors and each of them has its own awkward name. The unfortunate truth is that the type of brain tumor that one has predicted to a large extent the outcome for that person. Some types of brain tumors have excellent treatment outcomes while in others, the outcome remains very poor despite recent advances in treatment. This article discusses the various ways of classifying brain tumors and why knowing can make all of the difference.
Primary versus Secondary Brain Tumors
The first and one of the most important things to learn about a brain tumor is whether it is primary or secondary. A primary tumor means that the tumor is made up of cells that are found in the brain. This can be one of many types that we will discuss.
If the tumor is secondary, that means that it has metastasized or spread from some other organ of the body. In general, it is better to have primary brain cancer than secondary cancer because metastasized cancer is difficult to treat. Lung, colon, and renal cancers account for eighty percent of metastatic brain tumors in men.
Breast, lung, colon, and melanoma cancers account for eighty percent of metastatic brain tumors in women. Treatment for secondary cancers is determined by the primary type of cancer, e.g. lung cancer that has spread to the brain. In most cases, the prognosis for cancers that have metastasized to the brain is quite poor.
Primary Types of Brain Tumors
Most brain tumors fall into two main categories, meningiomas, and gliomas. Meningiomas come from meningial cells or cells that make up the covering of the brain. Ninety percent of meningiomas are benign meaning they are not cancerous. Also, since they are made up of cells that cover the brain, most of them are easily reached by surgical means. Most meningiomas occur in people that are between the ages of 40 and 70 and for some reason they are much more prevalent in women than men.
Gliomas, the other major group of brain tumors, arise from glial cells. Glial cells are found in between nerve cells and offer structural support to neurons as well as a number of other important functions. Gliomas are themselves divided into two main types, astrocytic and oligodendroglial tumors. The most feared glioma, indeed one of the worst types of brain tumors, is glioblastoma.
Glioblastomas are very aggressive tumors in that they grow rapidly and tend to spread. Other primary brain tumors in adults are rare and include ependymomas, craniopharyngiomas, pituitary tumors, primary lymphoma of the brain, pineal gland tumors, and primary germ cell tumors of the brain.
A Benign Tumor with Serious Consequences
One type of benign tumor called an acoustic neuroma develops around the cranial nerve that allows us to hear. While from a cancer perspective it is benign, from a neurological perspective it can be quite damaging and dangerous. As it grows, patients become increasingly hard of hearing on the affected side until deafness ensues. If it grows too large it can press on the brain’s ventricular system and lead to potentially fatal consequences.
Knowing the type of brain tumor that one has directs the type of treatments that are used and also the likely outcome. Other factors that determine the outcome include the location of the tumor(s), its shape (it is round, or does it have finger-like processes that would make surgery more difficult?), and its overall size. In recent years, great advances have been made in treating all types of brain tumors and the chance of cure is coming to thousands of those who would have otherwise suffered a devastating disease.