What Are the Actual Warning Signs of a Brain Tumor?

World Brain Tumor Day: What Are the Actual Warning Signs of a Brain Tumor?

Cleveland Clinic neurosurgeon says there are many types of brain tumors and that symptoms differ widely, but adds that the chances of developing a cancerous form are rare

7 June, 2022, CLEVELAND: There are more than 120 types of brain tumors and the warning signs for these can be as diverse as the brain’s endless list of responsibilities, but luckily, for most people the odds of developing a cancerous brain tumor are fairly low, says an expert from global health system Cleveland Clinic ahead of World Brain Tumor Day on 8 June.

“Over your lifetime, the odds of developing a cancerous tumor of the brain are less than 1%. Usually, symptoms like a headache or confusion are just your body’s way of telling you to hydrate or sleep more,” says Cleveland Clinic neurosurgeon Gene Barnett, MD.

He adds, “There is no specific sign for a brain tumor and one can present with many different signs and symptoms, depending on where the tumor is located.”

Signs to watch out for

Although there are more than 120 types of brain tumors, only about one-third of them are cancerous, says Dr. Barnett, who is Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Rose Ella Burkhardt Brain Tumor and Neuro-Oncology Center. He points out, however, that whether they are cancerous or not, brain tumors can impair brain function if they grow large enough to press on surrounding nerves, blood vessels and tissue.

With so many types of brain tumors, symptoms run the gamut from none at all to major red flags, says Dr. Barnett. Ultimately, how the body sounds the alarm depends on three things:

  • Where the tumor forms.
  • What part of the body the affected area of the brain controls.
  • How big the tumor is.

“To know when a symptom really spells trouble, you need to know your own body. Changes in your health can be just as telling as the symptom itself,” says Dr. Barnett.

If an individual experiences one or several of these signs, Dr. Barnett recommends seeing a medical professional:

  • Seizures: A tumor can make the brain’s neurons fire wildly, leading to seizures.
  • Changes in mental status: Perhaps a person has experienced confusion, one too many “senior moments” or more trouble than usual figuring out a restaurant bill. Mental abilities are personal to each individual — and so are any changes to them.
  • Personality or behavioral changes: “Frontal lobe tumors, in particular, can cause happy, bubbly people to develop a flat affect or cause some normally quiet people to become more talkative,” explains Dr. Barnett. “They can also cause a loss of inhibition.”
  • Clumsiness: Brain stem tumors may lead to a loss of balance or clumsy movements.
  • Visual problems: A tumor in the brain area that controls eyesight may affect vision. Blurred, double or even loss of vision can be signs of a brain tumor.
  • Limb weakness: Losing strength or weakness in an arm or leg may be a brain tumor symptom.
  • Headaches: “Most headaches are not the result of a brain tumor,” Dr. Barnett assures. “Brain tumor headaches tend to persist for more than a few days, are associated with nausea or vomiting or occur early in the morning.”

Signs of brain metastases

Surprisingly, Dr. Barnett points out, most common brain tumors do not actually start in the brain. Brain metastases, or metastatic brain tumors, spread to the brain from other parts of the body — most often from lungs, breasts, skin, kidneys or colon.

“A person with a known history of these cancers who develops any of these neurological symptoms should be evaluated,” Dr. Barnett says.


About Cleveland Clinic

Cleveland Clinic is a nonprofit multispecialty academic medical center that integrates clinical and hospital care with research and education. Located in Cleveland, Ohio, it was founded in 1921 by four renowned physicians with a vision of providing outstanding patient care based upon the principles of cooperation, compassion and innovation. Cleveland Clinic has pioneered many medical breakthroughs, including coronary artery bypass surgery and the first face transplant in the United States. U.S. News & World Report consistently names Cleveland Clinic as one of the nation’s best hospitals in its annual “America’s Best Hospitals” survey. Among Cleveland Clinic’s 72,500 employees worldwide are more than 5,050 salaried physicians and researchers, and 17,800 registered nurses and advanced practice providers, representing 140 medical specialties and subspecialties. Cleveland Clinic is a 6,500-bed health system that includes a 173-acre main campus near downtown Cleveland, 22 hospitals, more than 220 outpatient facilities, including locations in northeast Ohio; southeast Florida; Las Vegas, Nevada; Toronto, Canada; Abu Dhabi, UAE; and London, England. In 2021, there were 10.2 million total outpatient visits, 304,000 hospital admissions and observations, and 259,000 surgical cases throughout Cleveland Clinic’s health system. Patients came for treatment from every state and 185 countries. Visit us at clevelandclinic.org. Follow us at twitter.com/ClevelandClinic. News and resources available at newsroom.clevelandclinic.org.

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