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Brain Health:

Saving a ‘cathedral of complexity’

Published: Tuesday, May 27, 2014 10:03 a.m. CDT

 “It is unmatched in its ability to think, to communicate, and to reason. Most striking of all, it has a unique awareness of its identity and of its place in space and time. Welcome to the human brain, the cathedral of complexity.”
– Peter Coveney, professor
Today, nearly 700,000 Americans are living with a primary brain tumor, one that begins in the brain. Some 69,000 more will be diagnosed this year, according to research from the National Brain Tumor Society. Even benign tumors can destroy brain cells, produce inflammation and increase pressure in the skull. With no available cure and limited treatment options, brain tumors dramatically impact the quality of life for all those affected. But all of us have reason to hope for a better prognosis, as collaborative research, clinical trials and advanced innovations are driving the search for both treatments and cures. There are more than 120 types of brain and central nervous system tumors. Brain and spinal cord tumors are different for everyone. They form in different areas, develop from different cell types, and may have different treatment options. Here is a brief guide to better understanding the different types of brain tumors, and their individual intricacies.

WHAT IS A BRAIN TUMOR? A brain tumor is an abnormal growth
of tissue in the brain or central spine that can disrupt proper brain function. Doctors refer to a tumor based on where the tumor cells originated, and whether they are cancerous (malignant) or not (benign).

•    Benign: The least aggressive type of brain tumor is often called a benign brain tumor. They originate from cells within or surrounding the brain, do not contain cancer cells, grow slowly, and typically have clear borders that do not spread into other tissue.

•    Malignant: Malignant brain tumors contain cancer cells and often do not have clear borders. They are considered to be life threatening because they grow rapidly and invade surrounding brain tissue. •    Primary: Tumors that start in cells of the brain are called primary brain tumors. Primary brain tumors may spread to other parts of the brain or to the spine, but rarely to other organs.

•    Metastatic: Metastatic or secondary brain tumors begin in another part of the body and then spread to the brain. These tumors are more common than primary brain tumors and are named by the location in which they begin.

SYMPTOMS AND DIAGNOSIS Brain tumor symptoms can vary according to tumor type and location. There are times a person may have no symptoms when their brain tumor is discovered

•    Recurrent headaches •    Issues with vision •    Seizures •    Changes in personality •    Short-term memory loss •    Poor coordination •    Difficulty speaking or comprehending

Diagnosing a brain tumor can be a complicated process and involve a number of specialists, depending on where you live or where you seek medical attention. A brain scan, most often an MRI, is the first step. A biopsy may be necessary, so a pathologist can be brought in to help identify the brain tumor type.

For more information about specific types of tumors, ongoing research, and ways to get involved building awareness and funding, visit the National Brain Tumor Society at www.braintumor.org.

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