Brain tumors are somewhat of a mystery. There are only a few known risk factors, such as children who receive radiation to the head are more at risk for developing brain tumors later in life. There are a couple rare genetic conditions that also increase risk.
But those three issues account for a very low number of the 87,000 new primary brain tumors diagnosed each year in the U.S.
We treat brain tumors at Texas Neurosurgery, so let’s get into this issue in this month’s blog.
What is a primary brain tumor?
Primary brain tumors originate in the brain. Most primary brain tumors are benign, meaning they aren’t cancerous. These tumors are not aggressive and normally don’t spread to surrounding tissues.
Tumors, whether benign or cancerous, are masses of tissue formed by an accumulation of abnormal cells. Unlike normal cells that have a life cycle of aging, dying, and being replaced, tumor cells grow, even though the body doesn’t need them, and they don’t die. That makes the tumor continue to grow in size.
Benign versus malignant
Malignant primary brain tumors are cancers that originate in the brain. They usually grow faster than benign tumors and aggressively invade surrounding tissue, usually other areas of the brain and central nervous system.
Benign brain tumors usually have clearly defined borders and are not deeply rooted in the brain tissue. This makes them easier to surgically remove, but they do need to be in an area of the brain that is safe to operate on.
In the brain, benign tumors can be a serious problem because they can damage cells around them by causing inflammation and putting increased pressure on the tissue under and around the tumor, as well as inside the skull.
How are brain tumors removed?
After diagnosis, surgery is usually the most effective treatment for brain tumors, if the area of the brain can be operated upon.
In a craniotomy, our Texas Neurosurgery surgeons remove a piece of the skull to gain access to the area of the brain where the tumor is located. When the tumor is removed, the bone flap is fitted back into the skull.
In stereotactic radiosurgery, we use external-beam radiation therapy to shrink or slow the growth of tumors. In this procedure, we use a CT, MRI, or PET/CT scan to locate the abnormality and determine its shape and size. Then a high dose of radiation is precisely aimed at the tumor. These procedures usually require multiple sessions.