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Signs You Have a Brain Tumor, According to a Neurosurgeon

Specialist explains signs of brain tumors to watch out for and what exactly a meningioma is.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

A brain tumor is a cluster of cells that abnormally grows in your brain and can happen at any age. There's many different types of tumors–some cancerous, some are benign, meaning the cells aren't cancerous. According to the National Foundation for Cancer Research, "Of the nearly 80,000 brain tumors diagnosed in the U.S. each year, approximately 32% are considered malignant – or cancerous. Overall, the chance that a person will develop a malignant tumor of the brain or spinal cord in his or her lifetime is less than 1%." But "this year, an estimated 25,050 adults (14,170 men and 10,880 women) in the United States will be diagnosed with primary cancerous tumors of the brain and spinal cord," states. Most tumors aren't discovered until symptoms begin to appear and Dr. Michael McDermott, neurosurgeon and chief medical executive of Miami Neuroscience Institute, who is the world's leading expert in meningioma, the most common primary brain tumor in adults tells Eat This, Not That! Health signs to watch out for. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Headaches and When to Seek Medical Attention

young woman having a panic attack
Shutterstock / fizkes

"Every headache is not a brain tumor, but a headache that is persistent over five days, increasing in severity/duration and associated with nausea, vomiting and worse in the morning than in the evening, should be seen by a medical professional," says Dr. McDermott.


Why a Meningioma Isn't A Brain Tumor, But Called One Anyways

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Dr. McDermott says, "A meningioma is a type of tumor that grows in the meninges, which are the layers of tissue that cover the brain and spinal cord. Technically, a meningioma is not a brain tumor because it does not start in brain tissue, but often is referred to as a brain tumor. Meningiomas are usually not cancerous (benign) and don't tend to spread to distant parts of the body. But, because of its location, a meningioma can still cause neurological problems. As these tumors grow, they can compress the brain and spinal cord, leading to serious symptoms."


Common Symptoms Of A Brain Tumor


According to Dr. McDermott, "Common symptoms of a brain tumor in an adult patient include headaches, seizures, changes in personality or behavior, and progressive focal neurologic deficit, meaning the development of new neurologic symptoms and signs like numbness, weakness or visual disturbance. So, what does this all mean? If the tumor overlies your motor cortex, you develop weakness on the other side. If it's over your sensory cortex, you develop sensory symptoms. If it's over your visual cortex, you develop visual symptoms. And then the other one is changing personality or behavior. That relates to the fact that the frontal lobe and temporal lobe are large parts of the brain and they control mood, insight, judgment, personality and behavior."


Risk Factors Of Brain Tumors

happy family on couch

"In general, 99.9% of brain tumors are sporadic and we don't know why they occur, " says Dr. McDermott. "However, there are some genetic conditions that are known to be associated with brain tumors like neurofibromatosis (a genetic disorder that causes tumors to form on nerve tissue) and multiple endocrine neoplasia. Additionally, brain tumors can be associated with colon cancer and melanosis." 


Common Risk Factors For Meningiomas

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Dr. McDermott explains, "There are risk factors for meningioma, which include prior history of radiation in the face or scalp as a child. So, if you had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia as a child and were treated with prophylactic cranial radiation, you would carry a 25-fold risk increase of developing meningioma later in adult life. Meningiomas are also twice as common in women than they are in men. For women, it's an association or a 'cause and effect' when they have a history of breast cancer, as they have the same chromosomal aberration at a gross level, meaning loss of part of chromosomal #22. Additionally, there is a greater risk for meningiomas in women who have a history of thyroid tumors or family history of meningioma. Additionally, some suggestions indicate an increased risk for women who have undergone fertility treatments. While the whole hormone association is very difficult to sort out, some meningiomas are known to get kind of 'angry' during pregnancy and then settle down postpartum."

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Uncommon Risk Factors For Meningiomas

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Dr. McDermott states, "Research conducted in France reported men undergoing gender reassignment medical therapy seemed likely to develop meningiomas later on, approximately 8-10 years after starting treatment. Since these patients are on both anti-androgen and pro-estrogen drugs, it was noticed that they developed multiple meningiomas." 

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How Meningiomas Are Diagnosed

Two Medical Scientists in the Brain Research Laboratory Discussing Progress on the Neurophysiology Project Curing Tumors.

"I would say that the greatest proportion of meningiomas are discovered by chance," says Dr. McDermott. "Because of the wide availability of modern imaging, particularly with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), studies are done for other reasons. That's why these tumors are frequently discovered.

However, to diagnose a meningioma, these tests may be done:

  • Neurological exam. Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and may do a neurological exam to look for changes in motor and sensory function, vision, coordination, balance, mental status, and in mood or behavior.
  •       Imaging. Your healthcare provider may diagnose a meningioma using an MRI or CT scan to get a picture of the brain and nearby structures.
  •       Biopsy. In addition, your provider may want to remove a sample of the tumor to examine it under a microscope before making the diagnosis."

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Treatments For Meningiomas

Side view of young female surgeon tying her surgical mask

According to Dr. McDermott, "The different forms of treatment include surgery, radiation therapy or radiosurgery at diagnosis. And each of those forms of treatment has a different risk profile. Even 50 percent of benign tumors that are totally excised will recur 25 years after diagnosis. So, the key thing is that if you treat a patient with a benign tumor, they have to be followed essentially for their lifetime to rule out recurrence." And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
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