The diagnosis of a brain tumor is a life-altering event. Ultimately, the brain is who we are. It is the seat of our soul and the keeper of our thoughts. It is what makes us fully human.
“Perhaps the most difficult conversation for a Neurosurgeon is the one when he lets his patient know they have a brain tumor,” says McLeod Neurosurgeon William Naso, MD. “When a patient hears the words ‘brain tumor,’ the natural tendency is to think the worst. And yet, there is hope and there are choices for patients who develop a brain tumor.”
When both primary and metastatic tumors to the brain are considered together, the annual incidence of brain tumors in the United States may be as high as 240,000 persons per year — more than lung, breast, prostate or colon cancer, according to Dr. Naso.
TYPE & LOCATION OF TUMOR
The diagnosis of a brain tumor is extremely complex, because there are many different categories, each one with radically different treatment options and survival rates.
Some tumors are literally “death sentences.” Yet, others are imminently curable. Once the tumor is surgically removed, the patient can look forward to a normal life expectancy.
The location of the tumor also plays an important role in the ability to treat the cancer.
Although some tumors may be benign (no cancer cells present), they can still be life-threatening. Their size and location can potentially damage adjacent normal brain tissue.
TYPES OF BRAIN TUMORS
Brain tumors appear in basically two different ways:
One of the most common tumors is a meningioma, which arises from cells that form the covering of the brain or “meninges.” These tumors can cause neurologic deficits, such as weakness, visual loss, stroke or even death. Yet, with surgery the patient can sometimes be cured.
Metastatic brain tumors — tumors that spread to the brain from a different part of the body, such as the lung or breast — represent the most common type of brain tumor.
TREATING THE BRAIN TUMOR
The management of brain tumors can be quite complex and often requires a team involving Neurosurgeons, Medical Oncologists, Radiation Oncologists, Neurologists, Medical Physicians and Nurses.
Fortunately, there are many tools available for the management of brain tumors. Through computer-assisted microsurgery we can remove many tumors while preserving normal brain function.
Not all tumors are appropriate for open surgery. In some cases, we treat these with Stereotactic Radiosurgery (SRS), non-invasive treatment that allows the team to use computer calculations to precisely deliver high doses of radiation with extraordinary accuracy to a tumor while sparing normal brain tissue.
A FINAL THOUGHT
Over the last 20 years, a significant amount of information has been learned about the genetics of brain tumors. Already some brain tumors are being treated with targeted chemotherapy, based on the specific genetic profile of the individual tumor. Although many advances have been made recently, even greater ones are sure to come during the next 20 years.
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