8 Warning Signs of a Brain Tumor You Should Know

May 20, 2021


The average person has less than a one percent chance of developing a cancerous brain tumor in their lifetime. Unlike other cancers, there are few known causes of brain cancer other than exposure to large doses of radiation.  

Benign brain tumors and cysts can trigger similar symptoms as cancer, explains Jefferson Health Neurosurgeon Dr. Hekmat Zarzour.  

“Symptoms range in severity, depending on the size and location of the tumor, whether they’re cancerous or not,” says Dr. Zarzour. “However, malignant tumors tend to grow more aggressively, making symptoms appear rapidly, whereas symptoms of benign tumors can sometimes go unnoticed for years.”  

If you experience any of the symptoms below, let your doctor know as soon as possible, as they could be indicative of something serious.  

Common Symptoms:  

1. Cognitive Changes: These may be memory loss, trouble focusing, or trouble completing tasks you’re used to, says Dr. Zarzour. “Different facets of memory stem from different areas of the brain, but tumors that develop in the left temporal lobe have the greatest impact on memory. You may find it difficult to recall images, smells, and/or names.”  

2. Personality changes: Mood swings, increased anxiety and aggression, and trouble making decisions are early warning signs of a tumor that’s developed in the frontal lobe (where emotions are controlled). These can be hard to notice in yourself, so it’s important to be cautious of such changes in a loved one, Dr. Zarzour adds.  

3. Fatigue: Constant tiredness – even if you’re well-rested – may occur as a direct result of the brain tumor, or as an indirect result of dealing with all the other changes.  

4. Nausea/vertigo/vomiting: Increased pressure in the brain and hormonal changes can cause nausea and vomiting. Nausea and vomiting with brain tumors will happen persistently, regardless of what you’re eating, explains Dr. Zarzour. Some types of pituitary tumors can cause hormonal changes that lead to rapid weight-loss or gain; feeling cold or hot; and a change in your glove sizes. 

5. Headaches: Most headaches are not a sign of brain tumors, but headaches are a very common side effect of tumors, due to the edema (swelling) and pressure they cause. These headaches will feel different than others you’ve experienced, says Dr. Zarzour. “They often wake people out of their sleep in the morning and get progressively worse throughout the day.”

6. Weakness: Weakness, numbness, and tingling in the face and extremities, such as the arms, hands, and feet, can occur as tumors can change the way sensations are felt throughout the body. 

7. Vision problems: Blurred vision, double vision, abnormal eye movements, sensitivity to light, and vision loss can all occur when a tumor places pressure on the optic nerve or brain stem.  

8. Seizures: Studies show that about 50 percent of tumors present with seizures. Seizures are like a glitch in the electricity of our brain, explains Dr. Zarzour. “They fire involuntary movements, triggered by irritation of the brain cells (or anything that’s impeding or blocking normal electrical flow).”  

Anytime you experience unusual symptoms like these – or notice them in a loved one – it’s important to reach out for help, urges. Dr. Zarzour. “Keep in mind, benign brain tumors and cysts aren’t harmless just because they’re non-cancerous. They are still serious because of how they impede brain function and will need to be removed. Fortunately, some benign tumors are possible to cure after surgery.”  

While your overall risk for brain cancer is low, it’s better to be safe than sorry.  

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