Brain Tumor: Symptoms and Treatments

Dr. Philip Henkin

April 28, 2023

Brain Tumor

If you have a tumor in your brain or spinal cord, it can be a scary and stressful experience. But there are many treatment options available to you.

Most tumors develop when normal brain or spinal cord cells have changes (mutations) in their DNA. These changes make the cells grow and divide without controlling the cell cycle properly.


If you have a brain tumor, you may experience several symptoms. These can vary depending on where the tumor is located and how it grows.

A common symptom is headaches that are more severe in the morning or wake you up at night. You can also have problems thinking, speaking, and understanding language.

You should see your GP if you have any of these symptoms. They will check for a more serious cause of your symptoms and may refer you to a specialist (neurologist) for further tests.

Your doctor will also test your reflexes, muscle strength, eye and mouth movement, coordination and alertness. The results of these tests can help your doctor find the type of brain tumor and suggest treatment.

Some primary brain tumors are benign, while others are cancerous. Metastatic (secondary) brain tumors form when cancer cells spread to the brain from another organ.


When a brain tumor is suspected, a neurologist or oncologist (doctor specializing in disorders of the brain and spinal cord) can perform a thorough medical history and physical examination. They may then order various tests to determine the tumor’s type and location, as well as its grade or severity.

Malignant or cancerous brain tumors are dangerous because they grow rapidly and spread to surrounding healthy cells. Some can be removed by surgery, while others need a combination of brain tumor treatments, including radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Benign brain tumors are typically slow-growing, have distinct borders and rarely spread to other body parts. Treatment for these tumors is usually successful, and patients often experience full recovery.

Metastatic or secondary brain tumors develop when cancer cells break away from a primary tumor and then spread to the CNS. These tumors occur more often in adults than children.

A biopsy is an important diagnostic procedure to remove a tumor sample for examination under a microscope. It can also help identify the cause of symptoms, such as numbness or loss of muscle control, that you may be experiencing.


Treatments for brain tumors may include surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy. They’re used to control the growth of cancer cells, reduce swelling and relieve symptoms.

Your tumor’s type, grade and size will determine the best approach for you. Benign tumors are slow growing and unlikely to spread, while malignant tumors can grow rapidly and invade nearby tissue.

When a brain cancer diagnosis is made, your doctor will discuss treatment options and help you choose the most effective one. These decisions are based on the type, grade and size of your tumor; how far it has spread; your age and general health; and your treatment goals.

A biopsy is usually the first step in determining the type of brain tumor and whether it’s benign or malignant. Your surgeon will remove a small tumor tissue sample using a stereotactic needle biopsy. The sample is sent to a pathologist for diagnosis.


If you have a brain tumor, getting regular follow-up care is very important. This can help ensure that treatment is working and you are feeling well.

You may need regular physical and neurological exams and blood tests to check your liver, kidneys, and other organs. Your doctor also might recommend MRI, MR spectroscopy, perfusion or diffusion MRI, and CT exams to monitor the progress of your tumor and plan future treatments.

A biopsy can sometimes confirm a brain tumor’s type and help doctors treat it more effectively. However, many brain tumors cannot be diagnosed with a biopsy because of where they form in the brain or spinal cord.

Malignant brain tumors are usually treated with surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy to kill cancer cells. This can shrink a tumor and reduce the chance it will return, but some malignant brain tumors recur after treatment.