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FAQs about Brain Tumors

Q: What is a brain tumor?

A: A brain tumor is an abnormal growth of tissue found inside the skull. Unlike a cyst, which is filled with fluid, tumors are solid. Whether benign or malignant, brain tumors can be dangerous and life threatening. The skull is bony and rigid, so any abnormal growth can compress tissues that control involuntary movement, such as breathing and heartbeat, as well as voluntary physical movement and mental and emotional activity. Tumors are diagnosed as either primary or metastatic. Primary brain tumors originate in the brain. Metastatic tumors are caused by cancerous cells that originate elsewhere in the body and travel through the lymphatic system to a new site in the brain.

Q: How many people have brain tumors?

A: According to the Central Brain Tumor Registry, an estimated 114,000 patients are diagnosed with brain tumors a year, an increase of more than 5 percent since 1995. Males and females of all ages, races and ethnicities are vulnerable to brain tumors. Some types of brain tumors are more prevalent in children and adolescents (e.g., medulloblastomas), while others occur most frequently in adults (e.g., meningiomas). In general, brain tumors are most common among the middle-aged and elderly.

Q: What causes brain tumors?

A: Genetic diseases cause a few types of primary tumors. However, the origin of most brain tumors are unknown. Medical researchers speculate that several factors, possibly working together, are responsible. Potential culprits being investigated include family history, damaged genes, viruses, environmental factors such as chemicals and electromagnetic fields, occupational factors and injuries.

Q: How are brain tumors treated?

A: Three types of therapy are commonly used, either alone or in combination. These are surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. The treatment prescribed depends upon the type, location and size of the tumor as well as the medical history and health of the patient.