Patients with a brain tumor often report one of two symptoms in the “last weeks of life”.
Cancer cells can grow almost anywhere in the body, often spreading rapidly and invading other healthy surrounding tissue. However, unlike other cancers, those that arise from brain tissue rarely spread. Their origin and the rate at which they develop determine the symptoms that the patient experiences.
Brain tumors usually fall into one of two categories; primary and secondary tumors.
The former originates in brain tissue, while secondary tumors spread to the brain from a cancer located elsewhere in the body.
The most commonly reported symptom in the early stages of brain cancer is persistent headache, which often appears in combination with other symptoms.
In fact, headaches typically occur in more than half of brain tumor patients and get worse over time.
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Half of patients also experience seizures at some stage of the disease, but there are many other known causes of seizures.
In most cases, these problems are due to the growing intracranial pressure due to the growing tumor.
“The most common symptoms experienced by the patient are often associated with the location of the tumor and / or swelling of the brain, which can cause an increase in intracranial pressure,” say researchers from the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF).
These symptoms include drowsiness, headaches, cognitive and personality changes, poor communication, seizures, delirium, focal neurological symptoms, and dysphagia.
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The institution adds: “Some patients may have several of these symptoms, while others may have none. Some of the factors that influence the presence and severity of symptoms are the location and size of the tumor.”
Tumor progression and the degree of swelling it causes are critical determinants in the presentation of brain tumors, but some features become more common as the disease progresses.
“Patients with a brain tumor tend to develop significant and progressive neurological symptoms in the last weeks of life,” explains UCSF.
“Drowsiness or loss of consciousness is one of the most common symptoms in the last weeks of a patient’s life with a brain tumor.
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“Drowsiness, confusion, and alternating day and night are often early signs of a declining level of consciousness.
“Drowsiness and lethargy are progressive and tend to increase significantly in the last week of life. Ultimately, in the last few days, the patient falls into a deep coma.”
Although brain tumors rarely spread, the more aggressive the tumors, the faster they will grow.
Of all the various brain tumors, glioblastomas are considered the most aggressive in their behavior.
These tumors not only spread to surrounding brain tissue, but often grow completely unnoticed by the immune system.
This rapid growth rate, combined with the fact that the masses do not have clear boundaries, makes it difficult to surgically remove the entire tumor.
“While radiation therapy and chemotherapy can reach tumors, glioblastoma cells can survive and grow again,” Anderson’s Cancer Center, MD, explained.
In most cases, a brain tumor is discovered during a routine visit to the doctor, so it’s a good idea to check for symptoms as soon as they appear.
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