Is your headache "just a headache" or something more? In this video, icyou's Medical Editor, Mona Khanna, MD, MPH, talks about the signs and symptoms of brain cancer as well as risk factors.
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What is brain cancer? P. Mona Khanna: Well there are two types of brain cancer, there's primary brain cancer and there's secondary brain cancer. Primary brain cancer is cancer or tumors that actually start in the brain and then they extend down to the brain stem but they actually originate from the brain. Secondary brain cancers are cancers that actually occur as a result of cancer in another part of the body. We refer to that as Metastatic disease. So, for example, patients who have Lung cancer, it's not uncommon for them to have metastatic disease in their brain, so they have brain cancer as a result of that primary lung cancer. What are the signs and symptoms of brain cancer? Of the 70,000 patients that are diagnosed with brain cancer every year in the United States, many of them have signs or symptoms that result directly from the tumor expressing pressure in the brain. So it's not uncommon to have one of the consequences of having brain cancer being a seizure. So you have a seizure, you are otherwise okay, the cause is unknown, you go in for your work up and then what's found is that you actually have a tumor that's pressing your brain and that's why you have the seizure. Other signs and symptoms can be stroke like symptoms. You could have slurred speech, you could have impaired vision, you can have weakness in a certain part of your body, again, you go in, you get the work up and you find there's actually a tumor in your brain. Some of the other signs and symptoms of brain cancer are basically mental deficiencies. You can't think properly, you get forgetful, so anything where which is regulated by our brain and I know that's funny to say, because really everything is regulated by the brain but the more direct actions and movement and all - if there is some kind of dysfunction with those, then that's something that needs to be looked out. Can headaches be a symptom of a brain tumor? One of the ways that we actually sometimes describe to patients, the difference between treating a symptom and treating a cause as we say, well, if you have a brain tumor, and you take two aspirin, you know that headache that you might have will go away, but it will come back because you haven't really treated the cause. Now headaches, themselves, are actually symptoms of having a brain tumor in some cases. Most headaches, of course, are not from brain tumors but if you do have a headache that is persistent, that is worse in the morning when you wake up, then at the end of the day and that doesn't go away when you take the Over the counter medications that can take care of things like tension headaches, and really when it occurs at one time, it lasts for longer than 24 hours, you know, it might go away but then it will come back, so those are all signs that you really need to get that headache worked up because they can be presenting symptoms of a brain tumor. Are there any risk factors for developing brain cancer? The biggest risk factor of developing brain cancer really is that you have a cancer in another part of your body, and you have the risk of having metatstatic brain cancer which is brain cancer that results as secondary cause of having a primary cancer. But aside from that, brain cancer is unusual, in that it's not like, for example, lung cancer. We know smoking puts you at greatly increased risk for developing lung cancer. We know that a high fat diets puts you at increased risks of developing some other kind of cancers. We know environmental substances can put you at risk for developing things like bladder cancers. We don't have those specific risk factors for brain cancer. In fact, most people who develop tumors in their brain, whether they are malignant or benign do so just as a result of nothing that we can point out. I mean, they are basically unknown causes of developing that tumor. How is brain cancer treated? All cancers are treated with the standard regimen of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, one or combination of the

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