June 15, 2013

Some of the early signs of brain cancer

Normally we would eschew television medical dramas when discussing real life medical problems, but in thinking about the early signs of brain cancer, we are reminded of ER and the character of Dr. Mark Greene. Played by Anthony Edwards, Greene suffered from brain cancer, which would ultimately kill the character. For a while it appeared that the surgery he had to remove the tumor had worked, but in one episode as a test, he tried to stick his tongue straight out, and found he could not. It went over to one side, and it was the first sign that the cancer had returned.

The reason we remember this so vividly is that shortly after that episode, we read a blog entry of a woman who, upon seeing that episode, tried it herself. When she could not stick her tongue straight out either, she went to her doctor to investigate, and they discovered her brain tumor in time to do something about it. If only all the symptoms and outcomes of brain cancer were so easy.

Perhaps the greatest difficulty in seeing the early signs of brain cancer is that their symptoms are often also the symptoms of more benign problems. Headaches, for example, are an almost universal sign for brain cancer, but the problem there is that they are a sign of any number of other maladies. Indeed, sometimes a headache is just a headache. However the important difference between a plain ol’ headache and one caused by a brain tumor is that the latter increases in number and severity.

Because there is limited space inside the skull, the brain needing most of it, the growth of the tumor causes pressure on the surrounding tissue, and the result gives us the symptoms to watch for. These symptoms include the sudden onset of depression or anxiety, eating disorders, changes in mood, personality or the ability to concentrate, and problems with memory.

Other symptoms may be more physical in nature, such as nausea and vomiting, dizziness, seizures, difficulties with speech or the gradual loss of movement or sensation in an arm or leg. Or, as cited above, an asymmetry in facial muscle control or the tongue. (Indeed, as Dr. Greene’s condition worsened, he lost the ability to shut one of his own eyelids.)

Unfortunately, the nature of brain cancer can be misdiagnosed as a more benign malady, and it is also easy to take simple symptoms and suddenly be very afraid that a tumor is involved. As only a doctor can fully diagnose and treat the problem of a brain tumor, it is best for those who have these symptoms to consult a physician.

If you have any questions or would like to know more about The Rory David Deutsch Foundation’s mission to eradicate pediatric brain tumors and other devastating childhood diseases, please do not hesitate to contact us.


Common License:
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Make a donation