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Common Warning Signs of Brain Tumors: Recognizing the Red Flags

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A study by the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program revealed that the average person’s chance of developing cancerous brain tumors is less than one percent. However, this does not mean that we can be lax in our understanding of brain tumors and its warning signs.

What Are Brain Tumors?

Brain tumors are abnormal tissues whose cells grow and multiply uncontrollably, not following other healthy cells’ normal mechanisms or growth patterns. Brain tumors grow in or near the brain (e.g., near the pituitary gland or the membranes surrounding the brain). They can originate from the brain or spread into the brain from other parts of the body (metastatic tumors).

Brain tumors can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Malignant tumors are usually more aggressive and scary because of the nature of cancer cells. However, benign tumors can be just as bad if they grow to such a size that they compress parts of the brain that facilitate normal human functions like talking, walking, memory, and cognition.

Brain tumors must be treated as early as possible in most cases. Therefore, knowing the signs of a brain tumor and what to do if you or someone you love shows those symptoms is crucial.

Warning Signs of a Brain Tumor

Brain tumors manifest themselves through various symptoms that gradually increase in frequency and severity.

Here are the top warning signs of a brain tumor:

1. Frequent headaches - A headache in itself isn’t a cause for concern. However, if it persists and happens frequently, along with other neurological symptoms like weakness and loss of coordination, it is considered a red flag for a brain tumor. Be mindful of how the rest of your body feels when you have these persistent headaches, and consider consulting a specialist if:

  • Your headache doesn’t go away even if you take medications.
  • The pain is worse in the morning and subsides during the day.
  • It makes you want to throw up.
  • It makes you feel nauseous.
  • It gets so bad that it wakes you at night.
  • You feel tired and weak.

2. Seizures - It only takes one seizure for doctors to consider the possibility of a brain tumor. This is because seizures happen when there is abnormal electrical activity in your brain and should be investigated thoroughly and immediately. Experiencing several seizures in a short time is even more alarming and, without question, warrants a visit to a specialist.

3. Sudden changes in vision - Just like with seizures, sudden changes or deterioration of your vision indicates abnormal activity in your brain. A likely cause is that the optic nerves that deliver information between the eyes and the brain are compromised, hence the sudden blurriness, double vision, or partial vision loss. Physical trauma, like a blow to the head, can cause these vision problems. But if you didn’t have any recent accident in which you hit your head, a tumor in the brain could be the culprit.

4. Slurred speech - Sudden speech and language problems are major signs of a brain tumor. If a person suddenly slurs their words or seemingly doesn’t understand simple words and questions, they must seek medical attention immediately. The brain governs speech, and sudden difficulties in speech, articulation, and understanding of a language are telltale signs that something wrong is happening.

5. Inexplicable changes or loss of sensation - If you experience numbness and tingling sensations in the arms, legs, face, and other body parts, along with the other red flags mentioned above, visit a specialist as soon as possible. As brain tumors grow, they can block sensory receptors in the brain, leading to a loss of feeling in various parts of the body. 

Other symptoms that can become brain tumor warning signs if they happen concurrently with all of the above include:

  • Loss of hearing or ringing in the ears
  • Loss of smell
  • Unexplained irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Personality and behavioral changes
  • Twitching or muscle-jerking
  • Balance problems
  • Stiffness or uncoordinated movements
  • Obvious memory lapses

What to Do When You Notice Brain Tumor Warning Signs

You must see a general practitioner (GP) immediately if you manifest several warning signs of a brain tumor. State what you’re experiencing, like why your headache differs from usual.

Your GP will want to determine other possible causes of your symptoms first before considering the possibility of a brain tumor. They will conduct basic neurological tests to check your central nervous system and examine other parts of your body for abnormalities that could be traced back to the brain.

Suppose your GP suspects a brain tumor because your neurological tests reveal an issue with your cognition of verbal instructions, speech, or motor skills. In that case, they will refer you to a neurologist for further assessment.

Your GP or neurologist may order the following tests to aid with the diagnosis:

  • MRI scan
  • CT scan / PET-CT scan
  • Brain angiogram
  • Lumbar puncture
  • Biopsy

These tests and assessments will help neurosurgeons determine if you have a brain tumor. After that, they will perform additional tests to verify its location, find out if it is malignant or benign, determine the stage of its progression, and whether or not it is operable. You can also expect more hospital visits as your doctors will want to manage its symptoms and stop the tumor’s growth as early as possible.

Get an Accurate Diagnosis From a Trusted Specialist

It’s terrifying to even consider the possibility of having a brain tumor. However, it’s better to find out earlier than later. Knowing the warning signs of a brain tumor and what to do if you observe them in yourself or people you love will allow you to beat it before it worsens.

Consult trusted neurosurgeons with years of experience treating and caring for patients with brain tumors. Dr. Aaron Cohen-Gadol is one of the most prominent neurosurgeons in the world. He has performed over 7,000 complex brain surgeries and authored more than 530 neurosurgical publications. He is highly qualified and capable of making accurate diagnoses for brain tumors.

Schedule a consultation and request a second opinion from Dr. Cohen.