May 08, 2013

The ugly truth of malignant brain tumors

Over 20,000 people are diagnosed with malignant brain tumors every year, and over half of them will die. Malignant brain tumors are one of the most common childhood cancers and their treatment is complex and often dangerous.

While benign tumors are frequently non-invasive, malignant tumors tend to invade surrounding tissue. Removal of such a tumor requires damaging that tissue in the attempt to remove all malignant cells, which if not eradicated will regrow into a new tumor. Some tissue is more sacrificable than others. Skin cancer removal can leave ugly scars but does not otherwise impair the patient, however removing lung tissue can leave a patient short of breath, although still able to live a full life.

Brain tissue is not nearly as forgiving. Brain damage can quickly and significantly impair a patient via drastic personality changes, loss of communication skills, paralysis, epilepsy, changes to perception, development disorders, and so forth.

As such, brain surgeons, patients, and their families are often forced to choose how aggressively they want to attack a tumor. To spare more brain tissue makes it more likely for cancerous cells to remain and regrow. More aggressive surgeries have a higher likelihood of eradicating the cancer, but they may damage more tissue.

Non-surgical approaches such as radiation have their own benefits and drawbacks. Radiation will kill brain cells and target cells much more precisely than a scalpel. This treatment removes more of the cancer and less healthy tissue, but radiation can inflame brain tissue, causing it to swell. This, in turn, creates pressure within the skull, and excessive pressure can cause the brain to stop functioning altogether. No other organ is as fragile as the brain.

Malignant brain tumors can also originate in other places in the body. At this point treatment becomes intensely problematic, as each location offers its own unique challenge. In addition, once the cancer has spread to one location, it is likely to have spread to others as well. Treatment often becomes a way to handle symptoms and prolong life rather than offer a cure.

Early detection is, therefore, important, but sometimes tumors simply do not give early warning signs. Learn more about cancer research and how you can contribute to fight against brain tumors by contacting us.


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