Both men and women fear cancer. Many fear developing brain tumors due to environmental factors or everyday activities, like using a cellphone. More than 24,000 people in the U.S. develop brain tumors each year, according to the Central Brain Tumor Registry of the United States, and survival depends on early detection and treatment. So, knowing the signs and symptoms of brain cancer is important. Understanding how tumors affect the nervous system is the first step in early detection.
A tumor is a growing mass of cells. As the mass grows larger, it can put pressure on the brain, resulting in several common symptoms. Unfortunately, these symptoms can be difficult to distinguish from symptoms of less serious health issues. For example, women with brain tumors may experience headaches or nausea accompanied by vomiting. Nearly 50 percent of people with brain tumors have headaches. Of course, headaches, nausea and vomiting are symptoms of many other things, including pregnancy.
Brain cancer can produce several other symptoms that affect daily life. Personality changes are relatively common in people with brain tumors, driven by increased intracranial pressure on specific parts of the brain. Blurred vision and loss of balance are other symptoms that should alert a woman to a possible brain-related problem.
Other symptoms can be more worrisome. For example, up to one-half of people with brain cancer experience seizures as intracranial pressure increases due to the tumor growth. Most seizures are not caused by brain cancer, so a seizure alone in a woman with a history of seizures -- with epilepsy, for example -- is likely not an indication of brain cancer. Women experiencing seizures should be alert but not fear the worst.
Brain tumor-associated seizures may have specific characteristics. These include seizures that start suddenly in a woman who never had seizures before, short seizures that last 2 to 3 minutes, loss of control of bodily function, and seizures when the woman has other brain cancer symptoms.
Less Common Signs and Symptoms
Brain cancer can be accompanied by confusing symptoms that do not occur in all people. Often, these are signs a doctor will more likely identify, such as reflex changes and muscle weakness. These can be indications of where the tumor mass is. Other symptoms that can indicate tumor growth in certain areas of the brain include buzzing or ringing in the ears, double vision and lack of coordination.
What to Do
A woman who is experiencing any of the above symptoms should first consult with her doctor. Many of these signs may seem serious, and she may jump to the conclusion it's brain cancer. A doctor can help determine the true cause of symptoms with a thorough medical exam, and appropriate imaging techniques can clearly identify the presence or absence of tumors. It's important not to panic because the risk for developing brain cancer is quite low.
The doctor will typically take a careful history and do a physical examination to test reflexes and muscular function. Imaging methods to detect brain cancer include CT and MRI.