Early symptoms of brain cancer

brain cancer symptomsHeadaches are among the early symptoms of brain cancer, which is to be expected due to the location of the tumor. However, there may be several other symptoms that can be either general or specific, depending on whether they are caused by pressure inside the skull (intracranial pressure) or spinal cord in the former case, or if they affect a specific part of the brain – such as the cerebellum, the cerebrum, or the pineal gland – in the latter.


Brain cancer symptoms



  • Headaches.
  • Seizures.
  • Changes in personality or memory.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Fatigue.
  • Pressure or headache near the tumor.
  • Loss of balance.
  • Judgment changes.
  • Partial or complete vision loss.
  • Double vision.
  • Speech, hearing, memory, or emotional changes.
  • Altered perception of touch or pressure.
  • Weakness in the arm or leg on one side of the body.
  • Confusion with left and right sides of the body.
  • Inability to look upward.
  • Lactation.
  • Growth in hands and feet.
  • Trouble swallowing.
  • Weakness or numbness in the face.

There are currently no widespread tests for screening people without symptoms for brain and spinal cord tumors. However, there are certain risk factors that make some people more vulnerable than others.

Who is at risk for brain cancer:

  • Children and older adults, though brain cancer can affect anyone regardless of age.
  • Men – although women are more likely to develop some brain tumors, for example meningioma.
  • People with hereditary conditions such as Li-Fraumeni syndrome, neurofibromatosis, nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, Turcot syndrome, and von Hippel-Lindau disease.
  • Individuals who have been exposed to Epstein-Barr virus, cytomegalovirus, and other viruses or allergens.
  • Caucasians in the U.S. are more likely to develop gliomas, but less so to develop meningioma than African-Americans.
  • People who have been previously treated with ionizing radiation to the head.
  • Some Gulf War veterans who were exposed to nerve agents.

Most people are diagnosed with a brain tumor after they have seen a doctor about the early symptoms of brain cancer. And while early detection in such cases is as important as with any other medical condition, the patient’s prognosis depends more on other factors such as age; the patient’s functional level; the type, grade, size, and location of the tumor; whether the tumor – and how much of it – can be removed surgically; whether it has spread through the cerebrospinal fluid to other parts of the brain or spinal cord; and whether tumor cells have spread beyond the central nervous system.

By way of example, doctors can use the type of tumor and the patient’s age to establish a five-year survival forecast, as seen below:

Brain cancer five-year survival rate

Tumor type





  • Low-grade astrocytoma




  • Anaplastic astrocytoma




  • Glioblastoma




  • Oligodendroglioma




  • Anaplastic oligodendroglioma




  • Ependymoma/anaplastic ependymoma




  • Meningioma





Additionally, there several tests that can help not only to diagnose brain cancer but also determine the best course of treatment.

Brain tumor diagnosis and treatment

Diagnostic tests

Treatment alternatives

  • MRI.
  • CT scan.
  • PET scan.
  • Cerebral arteriogram.
  • Lumbar puncture.
  • Myelogram.
  • Biopsy.
  • Molecular testing.
  • Neurological, vision, and hearing tests.
  • Neurocognitive assessment.
  • Electroencephalography.
  • Chest x-ray.
  • Angiogram.
  • Surgery.
  • Radiation.
  • Therapy.
  • Chemotherapy.
  • Targeted therapy.

Brain tumors seldom spread to other parts of the body – instead they spread to other parts of the central nervous system. Thus, there isn’t as much risk of metastasis as with other types of cancer, but there is a very strong possibility that the tumor may interfere with normal brain functions and as a result affect daily activities. Moreover, a brain tumor is potentially deadly. So remember; a headache may be just a headache, but it can also be one of the early symptoms of brain cancer.

Related Read:

- Caring for someone with brain cancer: Not like in movies