Brain tumors and cancer: what you need to know

July 18, 2017 | by Denise Heady

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Say the words “brain tumor” and most people will likely think of cancer. But the truth is, having a brain tumor doesn’t always lead to a cancer diagnosis. 

“Some brain tumors are benign and grow extremely slowly,” said neurosurgeon and scientist Mike Chen, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Surgery at City of Hope. “While these tumors do not always cause symptoms right away, they can grow over one’s lifespan and cause problems later on in life.”

This year, an estimated 77,670 people in the United Stated will receive a primary brain tumor diagnosis, which is a tumor that originates in the brain. Fewer than one-third of those will be cancerous.

“There are two types of cancerous brain tumors,” said Chen. “The most common type is a metastatic brain tumor, which occurs when a cancer from another part of the body spreads to the brain. The second form of brain cancer originates from abnormal brain cells that grow uncontrollably as they infiltrate the normal brain.”

Survival rates for malignant brain tumors vary widely, but about 15,320 people are expected to die from the disease this year. That makes it important for people to be aware of brain tumor symptoms.

“Symptoms of benign and malignant brain tumors can be similar,” Chen said. “However, malignant brain tumors typically grow much faster and the onset of symptoms is correspondingly more rapid.”

Common symptoms of both benign and malignant brain tumors include:

  • Headaches (especially those that one wakes up with)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blurry vision
  • Seizures
  • Personality changes
  • Memory problems
  • Weakness
  • Paralysis
  • Impairment of other neurological functions
     

The cause for primary brain tumors is still relatively unknown. What we do know is that there are common risk factors, such as past exposure to radiation and certain genetic syndromes such as neurofibromatosis.

But there’s reason for optimism -- recent advances in screening and treatment, such as CAR-T cell therapy, mean patient outcomes and quality of life are continuing to improve.

And research is what sets City of Hope apart.

Chief of Neurosurgery Behnam Badie, M.D., along with other City of Hope researchers and scientists, recently launched a clinical trial that uses patients’ own modified CAR-T cells to treat reoccurring glioblastomas. A case study from the trial was recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine. In this approach, patients receive injections – directly in the brain – of immune cells genetically modified to recognize certain markers on cancer cells. 

 
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Learn more about brain tumors and research. If you are looking for a second opinion about your diagnosis or consultation about your treatment, request an appointment online or contact us at 800-826-HOPE. Please visit Making Your First Appointment for more information.

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