Medical professionals are still unsure of the exact causes of brain tumors. In recent years, some scientists have drawn the conclusion that heavy use of cell phones is linked to brain tumors. There are also concerns that Wi-Fi carries the same risk.
Tumors occurring in the brain include: astrocytoma, pilocytic astrocytoma, dysembryoplastic neuroepithelial tumor, oligodendrogliomas, ependymoma, glioblastoma multiforme, mixed gliomas, oligoastrocytomas, medulloblastoma, retinoblastoma, neuroblastoma, germinoma and teratoma.
Most primary brain tumors originate from glia (gliomas) such as astrocytes (astrocytomas), oligodendrocytes (oligodendrogliomas), or ependymal cells (ependymoma). There are also mixed forms, with both an astrocytic and an oligodendroglial cell component. These are called mixed gliomas or oligoastrocytomas. Plus, mixed glio-neuronal tumors (tumors displaying a neuronal, as well as a glial component, e.g. gangliogliomas, disembryoplastic neuroepithelial tumors) and tumors originating from neuronal cells (e.g. gangliocytoma, central gangliocytoma) can also be encountered.
Other varieties of primary brain tumors include: primitive neuroectodermal tumors (PNET, e.g. medulloblastoma, medulloepithelioma, neuroblastoma, retinoblastoma, ependymoblastoma), tumors of the pineal parenchyma (e.g. pineocytoma, pineoblastoma), ependymal cell tumors, choroid plexus tumors, neuroepithelial tumors of uncertain origin (e.g. gliomatosis cerebri, astroblastoma), etc.
From a histological perspective, astrocytomas, oligondedrogliomas, oligoastrocytomas, and teratomas may be benign or malignant. Glioblastoma multiforme represents the most aggressive variety of malignant glioma. At the opposite end of the spectrum, there are so-called pilocytic astrocytomas, a distinct variety of astrocytic tumors. The majority of them are located in the posterior cranial fossa, affect mainly children and young adults, and have a clinically favorable course and prognosis. Teratomas and other germ cell tumors also may have a favorable prognosis, although they have the capacity to grow very large.
Another type of primary intracranial tumor is primary cerebral lymphoma, also known as primary CNS lymphoma, which is a type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma that is much more prevalent in those with severe immunosuppression, e.g. AIDS.
In contrast to other types of cancer, primary brain tumors rarely metastasize, and in this rare event, the tumor cells spread within the skull and spinal canal through the cerebrospinal fluid, rather than via bloodstream to other organs.
There are various classification systems currently in use for primary brain tumors, the most common being the World Health Organization (WHO) brain tumor classification, introduced in 1993.
Some non-tumoral masses and lessions can mimic tumors of the central nervous system. These include tuberculosis of the brain, cerebral abscess (commonly in toxoplasmosis), and hamartomas (for example, in tuberous sclerosis and von Recklinghausen neurofibromatosis).
In 2000 approximately 2.76 children per 100,000 were affected by a CNS tumor in the United States. This rate has been increasing and by 2005 was 3.0 children per 100,000. This is approximately 2,500-3,000 pediatric brain tumors occurring each year in the US. The tumor incidence is increasing by about 2.7% per year. The CNS cancer survival rate in children is approximately 60%. However, this rate varies with the age of onset (younger has higher mortality) and cancer type.
In children under 2, about 70% of brain tumors are medulloblastoma, ependymoma, and low-grade glioma. Less commonly, and seen usually in infants, are teratoma and atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor. Germ cell tumors, including teratoma, make up just 3% of pediatric primary brain tumors, but the worldwide incidence varies significantly.
Many low-grade (benign) tumors can remain asymptomatic (symptom-free) for years and they may accidentally be discovered by imaging exams for unrelated reasons (such as a minor trauma).
New onset of epilepsy is a frequent reason for seeking medical attention in brain tumor cases.
Large tumors or tumors with extensive perifocal swelling edema inevitably lead to elevated intracranial pressure (intracranial hypertension), which translates clinically into headaches, vomiting (sometimes without nausea), altered state of consciousness (somnolence, coma), dilatation of the pupil on the side of the lesion (anisocoria), papilledema (prominent optic disc at the funduscopic examination). However, even small tumors obstructing the passage of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) may cause early signs of increased intracranial pressure. Increased intracranial pressure may result in herniation (i.e. displacement) of certain parts of the brain, such as the cerebellar tonsils or the temporal uncus, resulting in lethal brainstem compression. In young children, elevated intracranial pressure may cause an increase in the diameter of the skull and bulging of the fontanelles.
Depending on the tumor location and the damage it may have caused to surrounding brain structures, either through compression or infiltration, any type of focal neurologic symptoms may occur, such as cognitive and behavioral impairment, personality changes, hemiparesis, hypesthesia, aphasia, ataxia, visual field impairment, facial paralysis, double vision, tremor etc. These symptoms are not specific for brain tumors - they may be caused by a large variety of neurologic conditions (e.g. stroke, traumatic brain injury). What counts, however, is the location of the lesion and the functional systems (e.g. motor, sensory, visual, etc.) it affects.
A bilateral temporal visual field defect (bitemporal hemianopia—due to compression of the optic chiasm), often associated with endocrine disfunction—either hypopituitarism or hyperproduction of pituitary hormones and hyperprolactinemia is suggestive of a pituitary tumor.
Glioblastoma multiforme and anaplastic astrocytoma have been associated in case reports on Pubmed with the genetic acute hepatic porphyrias, including positive testing associated with drug refractory seizures. Unexplained complications associated with drug treatments with these tumors should alert physicians to an undiagnosed neurological porphyria.
Imaging plays a central role in the diagnosis of brain tumors. Early imaging methods—invasive and sometimes dangerous—such as pneumoencephalography and cerebral angiography, have been abandoned in recent times in favor of non-invasive, high-resolution modalities, such as computed tomography (CT) and especially magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Benign brain tumors often show up as hypodense (darker than brain tissue) mass lesions on cranial CT-scans. On MRI, they appear either hypo- (darker than brain tissue) or isointense (same intensity as brain tissue) on T1-weighted scans, or hyperintense (brighter than brain tissue) on T2-weighted MRI. Perifocal edema also appears hyperintense on T2-weighted MRI. Contrast agent uptake, sometimes in characteristic patterns, can be demonstrated on either CT or MRI-scans in most malignant primary and metastatic brain tumors. This is because these tumors disrupt the normal functioning of the blood-brain barrier and lead to an increase in its permeability.
Electrophysiological exams, such as electroencephalography (EEG) play a marginal role in the diagnosis of brain tumors.
The definitive diagnosis of brain tumor can only be confirmed by histological examination of tumor tissue samples obtained either by means of brain biopsy or open surgery. The histologic examination is essential for determining the appropriate treatment and the correct prognosis. This examination, performed by a pathologist, typically has three stages: interoperative examination of fresh tissue, preliminary microscopic examination of prepared tissues, and followup examination of prepared tissues after immunohistochemical staining or genetic analysis.
Most pituitary adenomas can be removed surgically, often using a minimally invasive approach through the nasal cavity and skull base (trans-nasal, trans-sphenoidal approach). Large pituitary adenomas require a craniotomy (opening of the skull) for their removal. Radiotherapy, including stereotactic approaches, is reserved for the inoperable cases.
Although there is no generally accepted therapeutic management for primary brain tumors, a surgical attempt at tumor removal or at least cytoreduction (that is, removal of as much tumor as possible, in order to reduce the number of tumor cells available for proliferation) is considered in most cases. However, due to the infiltrative nature of these lesions, tumor recurrence, even following an apparently complete surgical removal, is not uncommon. Several current research studies aim to improve the surgical removal of brain tumors by labeling tumor cells with a chemical (5-aminolevulinic acid) that causes them to fluoresce . Postoperative radiotherapy and chemotherapy are integral parts of the therapeutic standard for malignant tumors. Radiotherapy may also be administered in cases of "low-grade" gliomas, when a significant tumor burden reduction could not be achieved surgically.
Survival rates in primary brain tumors depend on the type of tumor, age, functional status of the patient, the extent of surgical tumor removal, to mention just a few factors.
UCLA Neuro-Oncology publishes real-time survival data for patients with this diagnosis. They are the only institution in the United States that shows how brain tumor patients are performing on current therapies. They also show a listing of chemotherapy agents used to treat high grade glioma tumors.
Patients with benign gliomas may survive for many years, while survival in most cases of glioblastoma multiforme is limited to a few months after diagnosis if treatment is ignored.
The main treatment option for single metastatic tumors is surgical removal, followed by radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy. Multiple metastatic tumors are generally treated with radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Stereotactic radiosurgery, such as Gamma Knife radiosurgery, remains a viable option. However, the prognosis in such cases is determined by the primary tumor, and it is generally poor.
The initial discovery of the virus' oncolytic properties were limited to only a few types of cancer. Several independent studies have indentified many more types susceptible to the virus, including glioblastoma multiforme cancer cells, which account for the majority of brain tumors.
In 2008, researchers at Yale University, led by Dr. Anthony van den Pol, artificially engineered strains of VSV that were less cytotoxic to normal cells. This advance allows administration of the virus without coadministration with interferon. Consequently administration of the virus can be given intravenously or through the olfactory nerve. In the research, a human brain tumor was implanted into mice brains. The VSV was injected via their tails and within 3 days all tumor cells were either dead or dying.
Research on virus treatment like this has been conducted for some years, but no other viruses have been shown to be as efficient or specific as the VSV mutant strains. Future research will focus on the risks of this treatment, before it can be applied to humans.