More than 700,000 Americans are living with a brain tumor today, and nearly 80,000 more will be diagnosed with a primary brain tumor this year. These staggering statistics remind us that this dangerous and deadly disease can strike anyone at any time and that too many of us have lost friends, colleagues, family members, and loved ones to this devastating disease. Fortunately, there are health and lifestyle choices you can make now to help reduce your risk of developing brain cancer in your lifetime. Understand what factors might put you at risk, and then get help from your care provider to make positive changes so you can live a long, healthy life.
Brain Cancer Defined
Brain cancer is an overgrowth of cells in the brain that forms a mass or tumor. When malignant, or cancerous, brain tumors tend to grow rapidly, which can cause dangerous side effects, and ultimately be deadly.
What are the Symptoms of Brain Cancer?
Symptoms associated with brain cancer vary wildly and can include:
- Headaches, which can be severe, especially in the morning, or during activity.
- Seizures, including motor seizures, which are sudden involuntary muscle movements.
- Personality or memory changes.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Fatigue, sluggishness, or drowsiness.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Memory problems or changes in judgment.
- Difficulty performing daily tasks or activities.
- A loss of motor skills or balance (if the tumor is in the cerebellum).
- Muscle weakness or paralysis (if the tumor is in the frontal lobe of the cerebrum).
- Partial or total vision loss (if the tumor is in the occipital lobe or temporal lobe of the cerebrum).
- Changes in speech, hearing, or memory.
- Difficulty remembering words (if the tumor is in the frontal and temporal lobe of the cerebrum).
Who is at Risk of Brain Cancer?
The following factors may increase your risk of developing brain cancer during your lifetime:
- Age. Children and older adults are more likely to develop a brain tumor.
- Gender. Men, in general, are more likely than women to develop a brain tumor.
- Ethnicity. Those from northern Europe are more than twice as likely to develop a brain tumor as people from Japan.
- Genetic factors. Researchers have linked five percent of brain tumors to hereditary genetic factors, including Li-Fraumeni syndrome, neurofibromatosis, nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, Turcot syndrome, and von Hippel-Lindau disease.
- Exposure. Brain cancer risk may increase for those exposed to solvents, pesticides, oil products, rubber, or vinyl chloride.
- Infection. Exposure to such infections, viruses, and allergens as the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which causes mononucleosis, and cytomegalovirus (CMV).
- Ionizing radiation. Previous treatment with ionizing radiation, such as x-rays, may increase risk.
- Head injury or seizures. Some studies have identified a link between head trauma and meningioma, a usually noncancerous tumor that arises from the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
How to Reduce Your Risk of Brain Cancer
While you cannot prevent a brain tumor, by limiting your exposure to the risk factors listed above, and avoiding environmental hazards such as smoking, you can minimize your risk.
When to Get Help
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms previously listed, and believe that you may have any brain cancer risk factors, talk to your doctor. He or she can determine the cause of your symptoms and establish a care plan. Remember that early diagnosis of any form of cancer will give you the highest odds of a full recovery and long life.