Generally, we recognize two types of brain tumors depending on the place where they begin to manifest. There is a difference between a primary brain tumor, which starts to develop in the brain, and secondary tumor, or cancer, which is a metastasis of a tumor that “infects” the brain but starts to develop in a different organ, such as lungs or liver.
The spread of cancer (metastasis)
At the onset, cancer does not manifest any palpable or sensible symptoms. It is at first only a small mass of cancerous cells that, due to its growth, starts to affect the surrounding cells, then tissue, a finally, entire organs. Also, cancer can cause the activation of the immune system, secretion of certain bodily substances and it can disrupt the hormonal balance of the organism. These reactions to the development of the cancerous mass are usually in proportion to the size and stage of development of cancer, and they trigger an array of symptoms that may not be in direct relation to the organ that is the source of cancer.
The pressure put on the surrounding tissue during the growth of the cancerous mass causes compression of the tissue, and with it, irritation and pain. The mass inhibits the normal processes of the organs in question.
When it comes to brain cancer, they most frequently metastasize from some types of cancer such as lung, breast, bowel, kidney and melanoma skin cancer. Headaches are synonymous with brain conditions, as the foreign tissue that affects the brain tissue by physically suppressing it, thus creating pressure, which is called Intracranial Pressure (ICP). It’s not cancer itself that hurts, but the pressure created inside the skull.
Headaches are the most frequently occurring symptom of a brain cancer, but they may not be necessarily an unmistakable indicator that you have brain cancer. Headaches can be traced to a number of different reasons, and if you sift through brain cancer patient reports of symptoms they experience, only about 8% of brain cancer patients experience headaches at the onset of its development.
About 50% of patients that have a diagnosed head tumor complain that they did experience headaches as the disease developed further. That’s because, during the incubation period, the mass is too small to cause any pressure on the surrounding brain tissue.
Patients diagnosed with primary brain tumor, and those diagnosed with secondary brain tumor describe a headache as having a distinct ‘tension-like’ feeling, different from the headaches which occur for reasons other than the cancerous mass growth. They occur in the morning and then later in the day, leaving you feeling drowsy and aching.
This is the characteristics of a tumor-induced headache as described by the patients:
These are the symptoms you might be experiencing:
- Headaches combined with nausea and vomiting
If the pain and pressure in your skull make you feel ill, to the point of vomiting, this may be an indication that this headache might be caused by the cancerous mass growing inside your skull.
- Medication and painkillers do not seem to appease the pain.
- Different than headaches that you had experienced before:
If you experience pain in one area only, differently from usual headaches (which appear multiple spots and wide areas), it might mean that the cancerous mass is starting to develop there. Also, it is very frequently the case that the mass starts to obstruct certain functions of the organism, depending on the localization of the mass.
- The headaches hurt more if you bend over, cough or sneeze
- You experience headaches combined with motor, sensory, visual changes
- You experience headaches combined with changes in memory, personality, thinking possibilities, perception of the world, constant aggravation
All in all, symptoms other than a headache are more probable to manifest, or to be more prominent than a headache:
- Behavioral and cognitive problems
- Some type of aphasia (inability to formulate or understand language properly)
- Problems with vision (double vision, blurred vision, and inability to look upwards)
- Pain in ears – like a middle ear infection
- Sudden weight loss
- Oozing drowsiness, tiredness
- Poor body balance
- Trouble with movement, walking
- Sleeping problems, pain that makes you wake up
- Changed perception of touch or pressure
Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to be precise when it comes to symptoms that accompany cancer. They are highly individual as the factors of size, stage of development and the organism’s response to the cancerous mass may greatly vary. One patient may experience some symptoms, while the other may not, or the symptoms may appear later on.
The only way to be sure is to go see a specialist. If you have reasons to doubt you may be developing a brain tumor, or that the cancer is spreading to the brain, do not hesitate, as there is a number of scans (CT scan, MRI scan, etc.) that may estimate what is at hand.