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Malignant brain tumors

Malignant brain tumors

Dr. Mina Foroohar provides expert, compassionate care in Arlington Heights, Illinois, for patients with symptoms that might indicate a brain tumor.

How does a patient typically get referred to a neurosurgeon?

“Some patients come through the emergency room, where a CT scan or MRI showed something unusual in the brain,” Dr. Foroohar explains. “Other times, a primary care physician may refer a patient who has a mild neurological deficit and an abnormal finding on CT or MRI of the brain.

Patients with known cancer may be referred to me by their oncologist, radiation oncologist or their primary care physician.”

Your concerns matter to us

Dr. Foroohar and her staff realize that patients who might have a brain tumor have many questions and concerns. We offer a calming, supportive atmosphere and will take the time to work with you, thoroughly answering your questions, addressing your concerns and coordinating the MRI and CT scans needed to confirm a diagnosis. Patients with brain tumors are always accommodated and seen the next day.

If a brain tumor is found, Dr. Foroohar will collaborate with you and your other physicians to formulate a treatment plan. Dr. Foroohar is skilled in advanced, state-of-the-art treatments such as Brainlab intraoperative image guidance, intraoperative brain mapping, and CyberKnife non-invasive radiosurgery, which can shrink or destroy tumors that were previously considered inoperable.

What is a malignant brain tumor?

A brain tumor is malignant if it contains cancer cells. However, a benign brain tumor can behave like a malignant tumor if it is:

  • Located in a critical area of the brain, or
  • Large enough to be life-threatening

“If a benign brain tumor is in an area where it can't be removed, it can cause significant neurological deficits,” says Dr. Foroohar.

Are there different types of malignant brain tumors?

Yes. There are two types of malignant brain tumors, classified by where they originate:

  • A primary brain tumor is one that begins in the brain and tends to stay there.
  • A metastatic brain tumor begins as a cancer somewhere else in the body, such as the lung, breast or colon, and spreads through the bloodstream to the brain.

What do cancer cells do?

Cancer is defined as an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells. As this disease progresses, cancer cells grow into and around surrounding areas and interfere with their normal functioning.

Cancer cells can also spread or metastasize to distant parts of the body—such as from the lung or breast to the brain. Melanoma, a form of skin cancer, can also spread to the brain. As noted above, this spreading is what causes metastatic brain tumors.

How are brain tumors graded?

The World Health Organization classifies primary malignant brain tumors into four grades of glioma:

  • Grade I tumors are least malignant. These slow-growing tumors are often associated with long-term survival.

  • Grade II tumors have relatively slow-growing cells. These tumors can invade adjacent normal brain tissue and can transform into a higher-grade tumor. They are considered low-grade astrocytomas.

  • Grade III tumors are malignant by definition. Their cells are actively reproducing abnormal cells that grow into nearby normal brain tissue. They are considered anaplastic astrocytomas.

  • Grade IV tumors are the most malignant type. Their abnormal cells reproduce rapidly and easily grow into the surrounding brain tissue. Grade IV tumors form new blood vessels to feed their rapid growth, and have areas of dead cells in their center. They are considered glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the most aggressive type of primary brain tumor in humans.

Astrocytomas are the most common type of brain cell tumors,” says Dr. Foroohar. “They originate in small, star-shaped brain cells called astrocytes.

Oligodendrogliomas are a less common type,” she explains. “These tumors are believed to originate from the oligodendrocytes—a specialized type of brain cell—or from a glial precursor cell in the brain. Oligodendrogliomas have a better prognosis than astrocytomas.”

How are malignant brain tumors treated?

Depending on the size and location of the brain tumor, treatment may include:

  • Surgery—Total resection (removal) of the tumor, subtotal resection (partial removal) or biopsy.
  • Whole-brain radiation
  • Chemotherapy

Cancer treatment is a cooperative effort involving many medical and surgical specialists. “I work with a team including the patient's oncologist, radiation oncologist and neurologist,” Dr. Foroohar explains.

Dr. Mina Foroohar answers questions about
malignant brain tumors

How common are metastatic brain tumors?

The American Brain Tumor Association reports that metastatic brain tumors—those that spread from another place in the body—are four times more common than primary malignant brain tumors.

According to information published by the National Brain Tumor Society, more than 200,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with a primary or metastatic brain tumor each year. Primary brain tumors account for approximately 40,000, or 20% of these diagnoses.

Is it common for a patient without a known history of cancer to have a metastatic brain tumor?

No. In general, a patient with a brain tumor has a known history of cancer. Or if not, in our clinical workup we'll discover another tumor, such as in the lung or breast. Then the patient will have a biopsy of that tumor before we treat the brain. But if a patient has a large tumor in the brain along with major neurological deficits, we'll treat the brain right away.

I had a patient six months ago who presented with a large brain tumor and was experiencing arm and leg weakness. He had no history of cancer. When we did the surgery, it came back melanoma—a form of skin cancer. Later, he recalled having scratched off a scaly patch from his scalp a couple of years before the brain tumor was discovered.

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