By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
It is important to remember that no two persons with brain cancer tend to show same symptoms or signs. In addition, brain tumors and cancers may be sometimes difficult to diagnose as most of their symptoms and signs are commonplace and sometimes overlap with other ailments.
That said, the severity and extent of symptoms caused by brain tumors are linked to the type, grade, location and extent of the tumor.
Commonly the symptoms of the brain tumor is more due to the pressure that the tumor exerts on the surrounding brain tissues than the tumor or cancer itself.
Sometimes the symptoms are caused due to blockage of the flow of Cerebrospinal fluids (CSF) around the brain. The fluid essentially bathes the brain and nerve structures and a blockage in flow leads to build up that may cause swelling of the brain. (1, 2)
Headache is one of the commonest symptoms seen in adults with brain cancer. Persistent morning headaches often accompanied by vomiting or frequent vomiting and nausea should alert an individual and he or she should seek professional help.
Problems with vision like blurring, double vision, hearing impairments, slurring or difficulty in speech are also warning signs.
Other common problems include balance and posture maintenance, numbness or tingling of arms or legs, muscle twitches or jerking and weakness of one side of the body.
Less frequent symptoms include unusual sleepiness, drowsiness, unconsciousness, changes in personality, moods, concentration, memory or behavior. In some patients, brain tumors may manifest as epileptic fits or seizures. (1, 2)
Brain cancer symptoms in children
In children with brain tumors and cancers, symptoms may vary and may often be difficult to understand or report. While most of the symptoms of brain tumors are similar for children as in adults some like increased vomiting, vision, speech, balance, and hearing problems may alert parents.
Sleepiness, loss of activity, weakness of limbs, paralysis, seizures and changes of personality and behavior may also be red flags.
In infants there may be swelling of head size due to swelling of the brain or build up of CSF. This condition is called hydrocephalus and is diagnostic of pathology within the infant brain. (3)
Symptoms in patients with metastatic brain tumors
In patients with metastastic brain tumors the symptoms of brain cancer often accompany symptoms of cancers at other sites.
These include loss of balance and coordination leading to increased falls, fever, fatigue, lethargy, increased severity or new onset headache, memory or cognitive problems or changes in personality, moods or behavior.
Patients may often develop tingling pain, numbness or sensory changes, paralysis, weakness, speech or vision changes, vomiting and nausea. While some of these symptoms are attributed to their primary cancers, they need to seek advice regarding possible brain metastasis. (4)
Edited by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)
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Last Updated: May 22, 2012