There are many types of brain tumors. Some are cancerous (malignant) and some are noncancerous (benign).
Some malignant tumors start in the brain, so they’re called primary brain cancer. Other times, malignant cancer spreads from another part of the body into the brain, resulting in a secondary brain tumor.
There are a lot of potential symptoms of brain tumors, but someone who has a brain tumor is unlikely to have them all. Also, symptoms vary depending on where the tumor is growing in the brain and how large it is.
Continue reading as we look at some of the most common symptoms of brain tumors, plus some symptoms that may provide a clue as to the location of the tumor.
Symptoms of brain tumors vary depending on the type, size, and exact location in the brain.
Some warning signs of a brain tumor may include:
- sensory changes such vision, smell, and hearing
- personality changes
- difficulty sleeping
- memory problems
- nausea and vomiting
- difficulty walking or performing daily activities
- weakness on one side of the body
Many of the above symptoms could be causes by something else and not a brain tumor.
It’s important to talk with your doctor about these symptoms to diagnose the cause. Read on for more information about these potential brain tumor symptoms.
Worsening headaches are a common symptom of brain tumors.
A tumor in the brain can put pressure on sensitive nerves and blood vessels. A brain tumor also prevents fluid from flowing freely in the brain, and the increased pressure commonly causes headaches.
This may result in new headaches or a change in your old pattern of headaches, such as the following:
- You have severe unexplained vomiting.
- You have persistent pain, but it’s not like a migraine.
- It hurts more when you first get up in the morning.
- It’s accompanied by new neurological symptoms.
- It gets worse when you exercise, cough, or change position.
- Over-the-counter pain relievers don’t help at all.
Even if you’re getting more headaches than you used to or they’re worse than they used to be, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a brain tumor. People get headaches for a variety of reasons, from a skipped meal or lack of sleep to stress.
Brain tumors can push on structures in the brain. This can interfere with electrical signals between nerve cells and result in a seizure.
A seizure is sometimes the first sign of a brain tumor, but it can happen at any stage. About
Personality changes or mood shifts
Tumors in the brain can disrupt brain function, affecting your personality and behavior. They can also cause unexplained mood shifts. For example:
- You were easy to get along with, but now you’re more easily irritated.
- You used to be a “go-getter,” but you’ve become passive.
- You’re relaxed and happy one minute and, the next, you’re starting an argument for no apparent reason.
These changes can occur early on from the tumor in the brain, but personality changes can also develop as a result of chemotherapy or other cancer treatments.
Personality changes and mood shifts can be a sign of a medical issue. You should see your doctor to discuss this if you’re concerned.
Memory loss and confusion
Memory problems can be due to a tumor anywhere in the brain, especially if it affects the frontal or temporal lobe. A tumor affecting the frontal or parietal lobe can also impair reasoning and decision-making. For example, you may find that:
- It’s hard to concentrate, and you’re easily distracted.
- You’re often confused about simple matters.
- You can’t multitask and have trouble planning anything.
- You have short-term memory issues.
This can happen with a brain tumor at any stage. It can also be a side effect of chemotherapy, radiation, or other cancer treatments. These problems can be exacerbated by fatigue.
Mild cognitive problems can happen for a variety of reasons other than a brain tumor. They can be the result of vitamin deficiencies, medications, or mental health conditions, among other things.
Fatigue is more than feeling a little tired once in a while. These are some signs that you’re experiencing true fatigue:
- You’re completely exhausted most or all of the time.
- You feel weak overall and your limbs feel heavy.
- You often find yourself falling asleep in the middle of the day.
- You’ve lost your ability to focus.
- You’re irritable and out of sorts
Fatigue can be due to a cancerous brain tumor but is likely not to be the first sign.
Depression is a common symptom among people who have received a diagnosis of a brain tumor. Even caregivers and loved ones can develop depression during the treatment period. This can present as:
- feelings of sadness lasting longer than what seems normal for the situation
- loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
- lack of energy, trouble sleeping, insomnia
- thoughts of self-harm or suicide
- feelings of guilt or worthlessness
If you think someone is at immediate risk of harming themselves or someone else:
- Call 911 or your local emergency number.
- Stay with the person until help arrives.
- Remove any guns, knives, medications, or other things that may cause harm.
- Listen, but don’t judge, argue, threaten, or yell.
If you or someone you know is considering self-harm, help is available. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text “HOME” to 741741 for the Crisis Text Line.
Nausea and vomiting
You might have nausea and vomiting in the early stages because a tumor is causing a hormone imbalance or increased pressure in the brain.
During treatment for a cancerous brain tumor, nausea and vomiting could be side effects from chemotherapy or other treatments.
Of course, you can experience nausea and vomiting for a variety of other reasons, including food poisoning, influenza, or pregnancy.
Vomiting from a brain tumor is usually severe and is often projectile vomiting, which is very different from the vomiting that occurs with pregnancy, food poisoning, or a flu.
Weakness and numbness
A feeling of general weakness can happen just because your body is fighting the tumor. Some brain tumors cause numbness or tingling of the hands and feet.
Muscle weakness or numbness tends to happen on only one side of the body and could indicate a tumor in certain parts of the brain.
Weakness or numbness can be side effects of cancer treatment, too.
Some symptoms can provide insights into where the tumor might be located within the brain.
- Vision problems. Vision problems can be due to a tumor located in or around the pituitary gland, optic nerve, occipital lobe, or temporal lobe.
- Speech, reading, and writing difficulties. These difficulties may be caused by a tumor near the temporal lobe or parietal lobe.
- Hearing problems. These may be caused by a tumor near the cranial nerves or temporal lobe.
- Swallowing problems. There may be a tumor near the cerebellum or in or near cranial nerves.
- Trouble with movement in the hands, arms, feet, and legs, or difficulty walking. This could be caused by a tumor near the cerebellum, frontal lobe, or brainstem.
- Balance issues. Balance issues may indicate a tumor near the cerebellum, brainstem, or the base of the brain.
- Facial numbness, weakness, or pain. This may also occur with a tumor involving the brainstem.
The cause of a brain tumor is typically unknown.
However, there are some risk factors that could make a person more likely to develop a brain tumor. Some of these risk factors include:
- Sex. Brain tumors are generally more common in men.
- Age. They’re generally more common in kids and older adults.
- Exposure. They’re associated with certain substances such as solvents and pesticides, nitrates, some viruses such as Epstein-Barr and cytomegalovirus (although research is lacking.)
- Family history. Five percent of brain tumors are linked to genetic conditions or factors.
Keep in mind that someone with these risk factors may never develop a brain tumor, while someone without these risk factors could still develop one.
If you have some of the signs and symptoms listed above, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a brain tumor.
Because these symptoms overlap with those of so many other conditions, it’s important to get the correct diagnosis. And for many diseases, earlier diagnosis and treatment provide a better outlook.
Make an appointment to see your doctor. Determining the cause for your symptoms is the first step toward getting the treatment you need.