Brain Cancer: Types, Causes, Diagnosis, Traveling

Medically Reviewed by Dr. K on 28 April 2021

What Is Brain Cancer?

Abnormal cell growths in the brain are known as brain tumours.

  • While these growths are often referred to as brain tumours, not all of them are cancerous. The term “cancer" refers to tumours that are malignant.
  • Malignant tumours can rapidly grow and spread, obliterating healthy cells by consuming their space, blood, and nutrients. They also have the ability to spread to other parts of the body. Tumour cells, like all cells in the body, need blood and nutrients to survive.
  • Benign tumours are those that do not affect surrounding tissue or spread to distant areas.

A benign tumour is generally less dangerous than a malignant tumour. A benign tumour, on the other hand, can cause complications in the brain by pressing on surrounding tissue. Brain or nervous system tumours impact approximately 6 out of every 1,000 people in the United States.

Primary Brain Cancers

The brain is made up of a wide variety of cell types.

  • When one type of cell deviates from its normal characteristics and function, it may lead to brain cancer. The cells grow and multiply abnormally after they have been transformed.
  • These abnormal cells develop into a mass, or tumour, as they multiply.
  • Since the tumours begin in the brain, they are referred to as primary brain tumours.
  • Gliomas, meningiomas, pituitary adenomas, vestibular schwannomas, and primitive neuroectodermal tumours (medulloblastomas) are the most common primary brain tumours. Glioblastomas, astrocytomas, oligodendrogliomas, and ependymomas are also classified as gliomas.
  • Most of these are labelled for the part of the brain or the type of brain cell that they originate from.

Metastatic Brain Cancer

Cancerous cells from another tumour in the body are used to form metastatic brain tumours. In a process known as metastasis, cells from another tumour spread to the brain. The most common types of brain tumours are metastatic.

Causes of Brain Cancer

The cause of the majority of brain cancers is unknown. Brain cancer has been linked to genetic factors, various environmental toxins, head radiation, HIV, and cigarette smoking. In the vast majority of instances, no apparent cause can be confirmed.

Diagnosing Brain Cancer

To determine whether you have a problem with your brain or brain stem, your doctor will ask you questions and do a physical examination.

A CT scan of the brain may be requested. This examination is similar to an X-ray, but it has more information in three dimensions. To highlight problems on the scan, the doctor will usually inject a dye into the bloodstream.

If the doctor suspects you have a tumour, you'll have an MRI scan. You could also be subjected to routine lab tests to rule out any other medical problems. Blood tests, electrolytes tests, and liver function tests are among them. If your mental health has become a problem, they can conduct blood or urine tests to rule out the possibility of drugs.

If the scans reveal that you have brain cancer, the doctor will recommend you to an oncologist, a cancer specialist. If one is available in your city, you can see a neuro-oncologist, a specialist in brain tumours.

The next step is to determine whether or not you have cancer. Doctors typically do this by obtaining a sample of the tumour and analyzing it. This is referred to as a biopsy:

  • A CT or MRI scan can be used to pinpoint the exact location of the tumour.
  • To reach the tumour, the doctor would most likely have to access your brain directly, by opening your skull in surgery. Where possible, they'll try to remove the whole tumour. For the biopsy, they'll take a sample from the tumour.
  • They'll remove as much of the tumour as possible if they are unable to remove the whole tumour.
  • If the tumour can be reached without surgery, they'll drill a little hole in the skull and thread a needle through it to the tumour. The needle would be used to extract the biopsy sample. Stereotaxis, or stereotactic biopsy, is the term given to this technique.

The biopsy would be examined under a microscope by a pathologist. They specialize in examining cells and tissues in order to diagnose diseases.

Travelling With Brain Cancer

Although brain cancer can restrict your travel options in terms of where, where, and how you travel, getting away may be beneficial. A trip, whether for work, pleasure or to participate in a clinical trial, will assure you that you can always do the things you want.

But, before you book your trip, double-check these details.

Driving. Based on the location of the cancer and symptoms such as vision problems or seizures, the doctor will determine whether it is safe.

Flying. Once you've undergone your brain cancer treatment, you should be able to travel after around 3 months. However, see the doctor first. Headaches and brain swelling can occur as a result of a change in pressure.

Treatments. If you think you'll miss a cancer treatment because of the trip, speak to the doctor about rescheduling. Also, if you have a port or medical implant and want to go through airport security, get a letter from your doctor outlining your diagnosis and treatments. Create a copy of the letter in the local language if you're moving anywhere that English isn't commonly spoken. If you think you may have seizures, you may want to wear a special medical alert bracelet.

Arrange medical care ahead of time. Make a list of the resources available in the area you'll be visiting. A doctor, a brain cancer hospital, and an urgent care clinic should all be on the list. If you need laboratory testing when on travel, your doctor will assist you in determining when and when this can be performed.

During your trip

To remain healthy and reduce tension when travelling:

Keep your medicine with you. Checked luggage can go missing. Prescription medications can be included in the carry-on bag for flights. Keep them in their original packaging to ensure that you know what they are. You might also want to pack a few additional medications in case your flight home is delayed.

Avoid germs. Hands should be washed or sanitised often.

Protect your skin. Apply sunscreen to your skin. Many cancer treatments increase the chances of getting sunburn.

Keep up your energy. Drink lots of water during the day and have snacks on hand. Eating small meals often can also help.

Pace yourself. Travelling is exhausting for everyone. It's reasonable to request assistance or a wheelchair in a big airport or train station. Consider what you will do in a day at your destination, relax where you need to, and enjoy your trip. 

Sources

Referenced on 26.4.2021

  1. eMedicineHealth: “Brain Cancer Facts.”
  2. The Brain Tumour Charity: “Travelling and brain tumours.”
  3. Cancer.net: “Traveling with cancer.”
  4. Cancer Research UK: “Brain tumours and driving,” “Changing your chemotherapy plan.”
  5. Postgraduate Medical Journal: “Foreign travel for advanced cancer patients: a guide for healthcare professionals.”
  6. Brain & Spine Foundation: “Everyday activities following a brain tumour.”
  7. CancerSupportCommunity.org: “Managing Common Side Effects.”
  8. Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin: “Brain & Spine tumor FAQs.”
  9. National Comprehensive Cancer Network: “Patient and Caregiver Resources: Traveling with Cancer.”
  10. American Brain Tumor Association: “Depression and Mood Changes.”
  11. Macmillan Cancer Support: “How Cancer Can Affect Travel.”
  12. https://www.webmd.com/cancer/brain-cancer/brain-cancer

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