Signs and symptoms of brain cancer

By City of Hope

The brain is an incredibly intricate organ with complex functions, which can make diagnosing and treating brain cancer a challenge. It is also an uncommon cancer. Less than 1% of the population is expected to be diagnosed with malignant brain or spinal tumors in their lifetime and, in 2023, around 24,810 malignant brain or spinal cord tumors will be diagnosed in the United States. Despite these low statistics, it is important to know the potential signs and symptoms of brain cancer, as finding the disease early allows for a greater variety of treatment options.

There are many types of brain and spinal cord tumors. Here are five of the most common to be aware of:

Gliomas: These tumors occur in the glial cells, which help support and protect the nerve cells in the brain. Gliomas are the most common type of malignant brain tumor, and they include subtypes, such as astrocytomas, oligodendrogliomas and glioblastomas.

Meningiomas: Found the meninges, which are the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord, meningiomas are usually slow growing and often benign. However, some can be malignant.

Pituitary tumors: Malignant pituitary tumors, also known as pituitary carcinomas, are rare tumors found on the pituitary gland. This small gland is located at the base of the brain and produces and regulates hormones.

Medulloblastomas: Medulloblastomas are tumors that start in the cerebellum, which controls balance and coordination. Medulloblastomas are more commonly found in children than adults.

Schwannomas: These tumors affect the Schwann cells, which are found in the peripheral nervous system. Named after their discoverer, German biologist Theodor Schwann, these cells produce the myelin sheath that covers nerve cells and insulates nerve fibers. Schwannomas are usually benign, but can sometimes be malignant.

The symptoms associated with each of these tumor types vary, but here are some of the most common signs of a brain or spinal tumor:

Headaches: One of the most common symptoms of brain cancer is persistent headaches that are often accompanied by nausea and vomiting. The headaches may worsen over time and may not be relieved by over-the-counter pain medication.

Seizures: Seizures are another common symptom of brain cancer. Seizures may cause convulsions or jerking movements, loss of consciousness or confusion. Seizures may occur suddenly and without warning.

Vision problems: Brain tumors can cause vision problems, such as blurred vision, double vision or loss of peripheral vision. These symptoms can occur when the tumor is located near the optic nerves.

Changes in speech or hearing: Speech and hearing can be impacted by brain tumors, causing difficulty speaking, slurred speech or difficulty understanding others.

Weakness or numbness: Weakness or numbness on one side of the body or in the arms or legs is another potential symptom of brain cancer. This may cause difficulty with balance and coordination.

Memory problems: Brain tumors can cause memory problems, such as forgetfulness or difficulty concentrating.

Personality changes: Changes in personality, such as irritability, mood swings or depression, might also signal the presence of a brain tumor.

While these symptoms might not be indicative of brain cancer, it is important to see a doctor for evaluation if you are experiencing them. City of Hope’s Brain Tumor Program is home to some of the most innovative and groundbreaking research and clinical trials for brain cancer in the world. We are experts in exciting experimental therapies, including CAR T cell therapy, which takes immune cells from your bloodstream, reprograms them to recognize and attack a specific protein found in brain tumors, then reintroduces them into your system. If you are interested in learning more about this and other leading-edge brain cancer treatments available at City of Hope, please email for additional information.


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