Brain tumors are abnormal cells within the brain, some of which are noncancerous (benign) and some that are cancerous.
Primary brain cancers, those that begin in the brain itself, occur when normal cells have mutations in their DNA that lead to the rapid growth and division of news cells, resulting in a mass of abnormal cells, or a tumor.
More common than primary brain tumors, secondary tumors, those that begin elsewhere and metastasize to the brain, most often occur in those who have a history of cancer.
Symptoms of brain cancer can vary based on a tumor’s location or size. In general, symptoms include:
- Unexplained nausea or vomiting
- New pattern of headaches
- Headaches that become more frequent/severe
- Vision problems, including double vision, loss of peripheral vision or blurred vision
- Loss of sensation or movement in a limb over time
- Difficulties with speech
- Personality changes
- Seizures, particularly in one who does not have a history of seizures
- Hearing issues
- Speech problems
If one or more of these symptoms persistently occur, be sure to see your physician.
Physicians recommend several tests and procedures for brain cancer diagnoses. They may recommend a neurological exam, which usually includes checking vision, hearing, reflexes, coordination and balance. Experiencing difficulty in one or more of these areas could be a sign of a brain tumor.
A doctor may recommend magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), commonly used in brain tumor diagnosis, or computerized tomography (CT) or positron emission tomography (PET). A biopsy may also be completed for diagnosis.
Too much radiation to the brain can cause significant complications, including neurological dysfunction and loss of cognitive skills. Because brain tumors tend to start and stay in the brain, and surgery rarely results in the complete removal of a tumor, proton therapy is a great treatment option for brain cancer patients.
Proton therapy increases the precision of treatment. Pencil beam scanning capabilities and image-based technology allow for high doses of protons to be administered to the tumor with reduced damage to the surrounding tissues and the optic nerve. Treatment is safe and non-invasive, and the Center’s treatment units have an open design, allowing patients to remain in one position throughout treatment. Patients will experience fewer side effects and are typically able to continue normal activities before and after treatment.
Because the brain is in close proximity to other critical organs and parts of the nervous system, brain tumors require precise treatment and care. While surgery, chemotherapy and/or standard X-ray radiation may be used to treat brain tumors, proton therapy’s ability to precisely target a tumor makes it an ideal treatment option for patients to consider.
With proton therapy, much of the healthy tissue and critical organs surrounding the tumor is spared from receiving additional radiation. Some of the normal brain tissue receives 50% less radiation than with conventional radiation/X-rays/IMRT. In the chart below, the grey/white areas indicate no radiation exposure, while the colored areas indicate radiation exposure.
Brain tumors most appropriate for proton therapy:
- Gilomas (astrocytomas)
- Supratenorial PNET
- Germ cell tumors
- Pituitary gland tumors
- Almost all pediatric brain tumors