What is brain tumour?

Brain tumour is a type of cancer that breeds in the brain. The brain is a soft and spongy organ present inside the skull. The bones of the skull protect the brain from injury. The brain is covered by three thin membranes called meninges; and fluid called cerebrospinal fluid. The fluid cushions the brain and protects it. The cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is present around the spinal cord as well. The CSF flows through the spaces between the meninges, spaces within the brain called ventricles and the spinal cord.

The brain controls all the functions of the body such as walking and talking; activities that our body does without thinking such as breathing and pumping the heart, our senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell), and other functions such as memory, emotions and personality.

Understanding brain tumour

The healthy cells grow and divide in an orderly way to form new cells as per the need of the body i.e. new cells are formed to replace the old and damaged cells; the old cells die.  A cancer is formed when the cells (the building blocks that make up tissues) do not divide and grow in an orderly manner. When more cells than needed form, the extra cells form a mass of tissue called tumour. Some cancer cells are benign (harmless) and some are cancerous (malignant). Brain tumours can be benign or malignant.

  • Benign brain tumours: These tumours do not spread beyond the brain and have distinct boundaries, but unlike benign tumours in other parts of the body, they can become life threatening if they grow big. Big benign tumours can become dangerous as they increase the pressure inside the brain or compress important structures present inside the brain. They are treated by removing the tumour and the prognosis is usually good.
  • Malignant brain tumours: The malignant brain tumour can be life-threatening. Unlike other malignant tumours that spread to distant parts of the body, malignant brain tumours seldom extend beyond the brain and spinal cord. Malignant brain tumours invade the healthy parts of the brain and prevent their proper functioning. Some benign brain tumours can be considered malignant if they are located in a vital area.

What are primary and secondary brain tumours?

Primary brain tumours: Tumours that begin in brain are called primary tumours of the brain. They are named according to the type of cells or the part of the brain they originate from. Gliomas are the most common type of primary brain tumours. The gliomas begin in a type of cell known as glial cells. The different types of gliomas are:

  • Astrocytoma.
  • Brain stem glioma.
  • Ependymoma.
  • Oligodendroglioma

Other types of brain tumours that do not begin in glial cells include:

  • Medulloblastoma
  • Meningioma.
  • Schwannoma.
  • Craniopharyngioma.
  • Germ cell tumour of the brain.

Secondary brain tumours: When the tumour in the brain is formed due to cancer that spreads to the brain from another part of the body it is called secondary brain tumour. For instance, when cancer cells spread to the brain from the lungs or breasts, it is a secondary brain tumour or metastatic brain tumour. Secondary brain tumours occur more often than primary brain tumours.
The exact cause of brain tumours is not known. There are many treatment options for brain tumours. Your doctor will recommend a treatment based on the type of tumour, the stage of tumour and your health.

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