What Is a Primary Brain Tumor?

A primary brain tumor is an abnormal growth that originates in the brain. It differs from a secondary tumor in that secondary tumors start in another location such as the kidneys or lungs and spread to the brain. Doctors treat the condition with chemotherapy, radiation therapy and/or surgery, depending on the type and location of the tumor.

These tumors are usually classified according to their location in the brain and whether they are malignant or benign. For example, glioma tumors start in the glial cells, or cells that support the neurons inside the spinal cord and brain. Meningiomas occur in the meninges, which are the membranes that surround the brain. Although a cancerous primary brain tumor is the most immediately life-threatening, even benign brain tumors can create pressure or swelling in the brain and might damage or destroy brain cells.

Primary brain tumors are more prevalent among caucasians, older individuals and in children less than 8 years old. People who work around certain chemicals such as acrylonitrile and formaldehyde are at higher risk of developing a primary brain tumor. Men tend to develop these tumors more often than women. Individuals who are exposed to radiation, either through prior cancer treatments or who work in a high-radiation environment, might also develop this condition.


The symptoms vary widely among patients. Some of the symptoms include confusion, headaches, tremors, loss of coordination and changes in the patient's sense of smell or taste. Some patients experience muscle weakness, and others have vision changes, chronic dizziness or personality changes.

A doctor can diagnose a primary brain tumor by performing non-invasive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, cranial computed tomography (CT) scans and electroencephalogram (EEG) tests that measure the brain's electrical activity. Depending on the type of tumor, the doctor might also perform a spinal X-ray called a myelogram that will help him or her locate tumors in the spine. He or she might also perform a biopsy to collect tissue samples or check the patient's reflexes and motor coordination during a neurological exam.

Medical practitioners usually treat primary brain tumors with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. A primary brain tumor might send out root-like structures that invade other areas of the brain, which makes it difficult to completely eradicate it through surgery. Physicians often use chemotherapy and radiation therapy in combination with surgical treatment. The doctor might also prescribe medication such as anticonvulsants to control seizures or corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and swelling in the brain.



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