Cancer of the brain can arise from within the brain (primary brain cancer) or as a result of spread from another part of the body (metastasis). Primary brain cancer comprises about 1.5% of all new cancer diagnoses each year in the United States.
Symptoms of brain cancer can include:
• Balance issues
• Difficulty walking
• Blurry vision
• Memory issues
• Trouble speaking and/or slurred speech
• Changes in personality
Risk factors for brain cancer are less clear than for some other cancers. However, we have learned that brain cancer is more common in those who smoke, have been exposed to radiation, and who have HIV. Many researchers suspect that brain cancer rates are higher in those who have significant head trauma, but this has not been proven. In addition, cell phones are suspected as a cause of brain tumors but this is not conclusive either.
Brain tumors are typically diagnosed with imaging (CT scan or MRI), and a presumptive diagnosis of cancer is made depending on the location and behavior of the tumor. However, a definitive diagnosis requires a biopsy. The location of the mass within the brain will often determine whether or not a biopsy is feasible.
The grading system for brain tumors is as follows:
• Grade I: benign (non-cancerous). Cells look like normal brain cells and tend to grow more slowly.
• Grade II: malignant (cancerous). Cells do not look exactly like normal brain cells.
• Grade III: malignant. Cells look more abnormal than those seen in grade III and grow faster.
• Grade IV: malignant. Cells appear very abnormal compared to normal brain cells, and growth is rapid.
Brain cancers are typically named for the type of brain tissue from which they arise. Some examples include astrocytoma, glioblastoma, and meningioma.
Staging of brain cancer is different from other cancer types such as breast, lung, and colorectal, which are typically based on the extent of spread of the tumor within their local area and to distant sites in the body. In contrast, brain tumors seldom spread to other parts of the body, and are staged based on the cell type from which they arose as well as the grade.
More common than primary brain cancer is metastatic brain cancer, which denotes spread from another part of the body. Common sites from which brain cancer develops include the lung, breast, kidney, and colon. Metastatic brain cancer can result in one or several brain tumors, all of which are of the same cell type as the primary cancer origin (e.g., lung).
Regardless of whether or not the cancer is a primary brain cancer or metastatic brain cancer, the conventional treatment typically includes surgery if possible. Radiation is also frequently used to treat a brain tumor, with the goal of cure or simply palliation of symptoms. Chemotherapy is sometimes used as well.
In integrative oncology, we incorporate the aforementioned treatments with alternative therapies. The treatments chosen for each patient consider the cancer grade and stage, as well as the patient’s:
• Previous medical history
• Chronic medical problems, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and digestive issues
• Diet and nutritional status
• Activity level and mobility
• Environmental exposures in the home and at work
• Sources of stress
• Support system, including family and friends
• Treatment goals
With integrative oncology, we have many tools at our disposal. These tools include advanced testing as well as innovative therapies that are on the cutting edge of science. Personalized treatment is the name of the game, because each cancer case is different. We feel that this is an important distinction between adequate treatment and exceptional treatment.