Symptoms & Diagnosis
Symptoms may be caused when a tumour presses on a nerve or damages a certain area of the brain. They may also be caused when the brain swells or fluid builds up within the skull (which is known as oedema).
Symptoms will vary but the most common types are:
- Seizures, muscle jerking or twitching
- Nausea and vomiting
- Changes in speech, vision or hearing
- Problems with memory
- Changes in mood, personality or concentration
- Problems with balance and walking
Many of these symptoms are not definite signs of a brain tumour and could relate to a variety of different conditions. However, it is advisable to see your GP if you have any of these problems. The brain controls so many different functions that the symptoms caused by brain tumours can be extremely variable.
You can also visit HeadSmart for more age specific symptoms. HeadSmart is a project that aims to enhance the awareness of symptoms of brain tumours in children and young people.
Your GP will examine you for possible signs and will ask about your symptoms. If they suspect a brain tumour, they will refer you to a specialist such as a neurologist (a specialist in brain and nerve disorders) or an oncologist (a doctor who specialises in cancer treatment).
In our experience, we took Taylan to an optician to start with, as he had double vision which occurred suddenly. We then went to see our GP, followed by an ophthalmologist who subsequently referred us to the hospital for further tests. Sometimes, people with brain tumours may also have a sudden seizure, or develop problems abruptly which are linked to the location of the tumour. These may well require hospital visits.
Your specialist will go through your history and symptoms before performing a physical examination. They will then test your nervous system, such as your facial muscles, tongue movement and gag reflex, the strength in your limbs, your ability to feel pinpricks and hot and cold, your balance and coordination, an eye examination to check for signs of raised pressure in your skull and vision and possibly a hearing test.
Special imaging techniques may then be performed known as CT (computerised tomography) scans or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans. Other scans and/or tests may also be offered to diagnose a tumour. These procedures will determine whether you have a brain tumour, as well as its size, location and grade. If a diagnosis cannot be made clearly from the scans, a biopsy may be performed to determine what type of tumour is present, although sometimes a biopsy is not possible. If the tumour is in the brain stem or certain other areas, the surgeon may not be able to remove tissue from the tumour without damaging normal brain tissue.
The tumour will then be classified as benign or malignant and given a score that reflects how malignant it is. This score will then help doctors to determine how to treat the tumour and will also predict the likely outcome, or prognosis.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has developed a grading system which is made up of four categories of primary brain tumours:
- Grade I tumours are slow-growing, non-malignant and rarely spread into normal tissue. They are associated with long-term survival.
- Grade II tumours are relatively slow-growing but may recur as higher-grade tumours.
- Grade III tumours are malignant and often recur as quick-growing higher-grade tumours.
- Grade IV tumours reproduce rapidly and are very aggressive and malignant. These are difficult to treat or cure.
Taylan's tumour, known as a Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), was located in the brain stem. It had a Grade IV classification, making it inoperable and difficult to treat or cure.