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Understanding brain and spinal cord tumours

Brain Tumours can be divided into primary brain tumours (those that arise from the brain itself) and secondary (those that spread from a cancer somewhere else in the body).  The latter are more common.  Primary Brain Tumours almost never spread out from the central nervous system.

There are between 5-15 primary brain tumours per 100,000 population. This accounts for 5%-10% of all cancers in all age groups and probably 30%-40% of tumours in children.

It is now well recognised that patients with brain tumours (and their family) do best if managed by a group of doctors both medical and surgical who have a particular interest in the management of brain tumours.  This is known as Tumour Multidisciplinary Team (MDT).  As a group of neurosurgeons committed to the best outcome for their patients, we at the London Neurosurgery Partnership have come together with the doctors at Leaders in Oncology Care to provide just such a group.  As a result all patients with brain tumours receive highly individualised care that delivers not only the best treatment possible for the patient but treatment that is appropriate to the patient’s and family’s psychological and emotional needs.

 

Symptoms of brain and spine tumours

Tumours usually present in one of three ways: headaches (54%), progressive neurological deficit (68%) or seizures (26%).

The headaches are related to raised pressure inside the brain. The classical description is one of early morning headaches, often over the forehead, which is present when the person wakes up. The headache usually settles by afternoon. Many patients also complain of nausea or vomiting.

Any neurological deficit will depend on the site of the tumour. The commonest deficit seen is a weakness (frontal tumour); some patients may have numbness (parietal tumour), problems with speech (dominant temporal tumour), visual problems (temporal, parietal or occipital tumour) or a change in personality (frontal tumour). Certain tumours present in a very specific fashion, i.e. endocrine problems with a pituitary tumour.

Seizures (epileptic fits) occurring for the first time in an adult must be investigated with an urgent scan. The types of fits seen in patients with tumours varies from classical grand mal seizures where the patient loses consciousness, shakes, may be incontinent and tongue bites, to focal seizures which may cause a temporary loss of function. In patients with a tumour in the movement area they may lose movement in one arm for a short period of time which then spontaneously recovers.