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Surefire Signs of Brain Cancer, According to Experts

What to know about brain cancer.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Brain cancer is a cluster of cells that abnormally grows in your brain. Anyone at any age can get brain cancer and John Hopkins Medicine states, "All brain cancers are tumors, but not all brain tumors are cancerous." The site also explains, "There are over 120 brain tumor types, based on the brain tissues they affect. Not all brain tumors are brain cancer, but even benign (or noncancerous) tumors can be dangerous because of their size or location," and according to, "Brain and other nervous system cancer is the 10th leading cause of death for men and women. It is estimated that 18,280 adults in the United States (10,710 men and 7,570 women) will die from primary cancerous brain and CNS tumors this year. Worldwide, an estimated 251,329 people died from primary cancerous brain and CNS tumors in 2020."  Most tumors aren't discovered until symptoms begin to appear and Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with Dr. Rupesh Kotecha, Chief of Radiosurgery and Director of Central Nervous System Metastasis at Miami Cancer Institute, part of Baptist Health South Florida, regarding brain cancer 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.


Brain Cancer Symptoms Facts

Woman fainted

Dr. Kotecha shares, "Symptoms associated with primary brain tumors are divided into two categories: generalized and focal. Generalized symptoms include headaches, nausea, vomiting, decreased levels of consciousness, and seizures. Focal symptoms can also include seizures depending on tumor location, and weakness, loss of sensation, difficulty speaking, or loss of vision." 


Headaches That are Worse in the Morning or Go Away After Vomiting

young woman with nausea in all denim outfit sitting on bed
Shutterstock / New Africa

Dr. Kotecha says, "Nausea; seizures; comprehension problems; vision, hearing or speech issues; loss of appetite; walking and balance problems; muscle weakness are all symptoms of primary brain tumors. Primary brain tumors originate in the brain. They can be either malignant (cancerous) or benign (noncancerous) and high-grade (fast-growing) or low-grade (slow-growing). There are more than 125 types of primary brain tumors. Generalized symptoms include headaches, nausea, vomiting, decreased levels of consciousness, and seizures. Focal symptoms can also include seizures depending on tumor location, and weakness, loss of sensation, difficulty speaking, or loss of vision.

Gliomas are the most common type of primary brain tumor, developing in glial cells – a group of cells that covers neurons and supports their activity – and can affect any part of the brain or spinal cord. One type of glioma is a glioblastoma, a fast-growing, cancerous tumor that usually affects adults. 

While risk factors for most people with primary brain tumors is generally unknown, some risk factors include having an immune system disorder like the Epstein-Barr virus or AIDS; using immunosuppressants after an organ transplant; genetic syndromes such as neurofibromatosis type 1 and type 2, von Hippel-Lindau disease, tuberous sclerosis, and Li-Fraumeni syndrome; and exposure to vinyl chloride. 

Additionally, these can be symptoms of metastatic brain tumors. More common than primary brain tumors, metastatic brain tumors begin as cancer in another part of the body. Most brain metastases develop in the cerebral cortex, which plays a role in consciousness, memory, perception and language."


Cerebrospinal Fluid (the Fluid that Surrounds our Brain and Spinal Cord) Leaking from the Nose

Sick woman blowing her runny nose in paper tissue at home.

According to Dr. Kotecha, "This symptom, along with a headache, nausea, vomiting and/or dizziness, can be a symptom of a pituitary tumor. Pituitary tumors are a type of primary brain tumor that begins in the epithelial cells that line the pituitary gland – the main endocrine gland that is attached to the hypothalamus and controls growth and metabolism and stimulates hormone production by other glands. Pituitary tumors are not easy to diagnose since they sometimes cause no symptoms. Even when they do cause symptoms, they can be diagnosed incorrectly as another condition. In some cases, doctors unexpectedly find pituitary tumors when performing MRI tests for another reason." 


Vertigo; Hearing Loss in One Ear, Ringing in One Ear, Numb or Weak Facial Muscles, Double Vision

Woman touching her ears.

"These can all be symptoms of an acoustic neuroma or vestibular schwannoma, a type of primary brain tumor," says Dr. Kotecha. "An acoustic neuroma is a condition in which a benign (noncancerous) tumor grows on the vestibulocochlear nerve – the nerve that begins in the inner ear as the vestibular and cochlear nerves and ends in the brainstem. This nerve is responsible for conveying balance and sound information from your ear to your brain. Acoustic neuroma tumors typically grow slowly and do not spread to surrounding tissue. They begin in Schwann cells, which make a substance called myelin that insulates nerve fibers and helps nerve impulses transmit faster.

Symptoms of acoustic neuroma occur when tumors grow large enough to press on neighboring nerves, blood vessels and brain tissue."

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How Brain Cancer is More Treatable Today

Radiologist looking at the MRI scan images.

According to Dr. Kotecha, "Patients with primary brain tumors and brain metastasis benefit most from the advances in our understanding of tumor biology and molecular profile. From these, we are able to provide more accurate information about prognosis and treatment strategy, including identification of patients who may be treated with targeted therapies or immunotherapy. For patients treated with radiation therapy, advanced technologies such as the use of particle therapy (i.e. protons or carbon ions) or high-precision stereotactic radiosurgery have been key to maximizing tumor control while minimizing both acute and late treatment-related toxicities." 


Who is Most at Risk for Brain Cancer?


"For the substantial majority of patients with primary brain tumors, there are unfortunately no identifiable risk factors," says Dr. Kotecha. "A small proportion of patients have known genetic syndromes which predispose them to development of cancer. Outside of this, exposure to ionizing radiation is the only known risk factor. For patients with brain metastasis, the most common primary histologies include lung cancer, breast cancer, melanoma, and renal cell cancer." 

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How Can You Help Prevent Brain Cancer?

brain fog

Dr. Kotecha states, "Since there are no significant risk factors, unfortunately we don't have means of preventing primary brain tumors, unlike other cancers." 


More Clinical Trial Are Needed

laboratory technician holds in one hand laboratory test tube with blood, in other brain model

Dr. Kotecha explains, "The category one recommendations from National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines are to offer patients with brain tumors access to clinical trials and as a principal investigator on several studies, I truly believe that for us to continue to move the science forward and improve patient outcomes, we need to put forth the effort to allow patients to have access to novel trials. At the same time, I appreciate the trust that patients have put in their investigators and research teams to be enrolled into studies." 

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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