Chronic Disease


Brain Cancer​

​What is brain cancer?  

Brain cancer is tumors that affect the brain or the organs connected to it, such as the spinal cord, the meninges, and the brain nerves. In this case, they are known as primary brain tumors. Brain tumors that originally spread from other organs of the body then to the brain are known as secondary brain tumors. 

Who gets brain cancer?  
Brain and spinal cord tumors can affect both children and adults, but they are more common in older adults. 

Risk factors:
The main cause of most brain tumors is unknown; however, several risk factors may increase your chances of developing a brain tumor, including: 
  1. Age: You are at a higher risk of developing a brain tumor as you age (it most often occurs in adults between the ages of 85 and 89), but some are more common in children.
  2. Exposure to radiation: radiation can cause some brain tumors. Some types are more common in people who have had radiotherapy, computed tomography (CT) scans, or brain x-rays. 
  3. Family history and genetic factors: certain genetic conditions can increase the risk of developing a brain tumor, including tuberous sclerosis, neurofibromatosis type 1, neurofibromatosis type 2, and Turner syndrome.

The brain is made up of different tissues and cells that can develop into different types of tumors. There are over 130 different types of brain tumors. Their names vary according to their location. They are classified into grades, from 1 to 4, and the higher the number, the more serious the tumor. The types include: 
Grade 1 and 2 brain tumors:  these are noncancerous (benign) tumors that tend to grow very slowly.
Grade 3 and 4 brain tumors:  they are cancerous (malignant) tumors that grow faster and are more difficult to treat.

Brain tumors are also known as:   
  • Primary brain tumors: They originate in the brain.  
  • Secondary brain tumors: They spread from an organ into the brain.  
How common are brain tumors?  
In 2020: 
In the world: 19 most common cancers. Rates were:  
  • Number of cases:  102,308 
  • Number of mortalities:  329,251 
In Saudi Arabia:  15 most common cancers. Rates were:  
  • Number of cases: 598 
  • Number of mortalities: 486 
  • Number of cases over the past 5 years: 1876

Symptoms of brain tumors vary depending on which part of the brain is affected. Common symptoms include:
  • Headache
  • Seizures 
  • Persistent feeling of tiredness, nausea, vomiting and drowsiness
  • Mental or behavioral changes, such as memory problems or personality changes
  • Gradual weakness or paralysis on one side of the body
  • Vision and speech problems
In some cases, you may have no symptoms at all or notice that your symptoms are developing very slowly over time. 

When to see a doctor?  
See a doctor if you have any of these symptoms, especially if you have a headache that's different from the usual headaches you get, or if they keep getting worse. You may not have a brain tumor, but it is essential that you get yourself checked if you have these symptoms.

If your GP cannot determine the cause of these symptoms, they will refer you to a doctor specialized in the brain and nervous system (neurologist) for further tests and examinations, like a brain scan.

Doctors use several tests to confirm a brain tumor. These tests include:
  1. Physical examination and medical history
  2. Blood tests
  3. Biopsy
  4. Scans
  5. Neurological examination
  6. Spinal cord examination

Brain tumor treatment mainly aims to remove as much of the tumor as possible and prevent its recurrence. The type of treatment chosen is determined according to: 
  • Tumor type
  • Location 
  • Size and spread extent
  • Extent of cell deformation
  • Patient's overall health 

The main treatment options include:
  • Surgery:  A small part of the skull is removed, the tumor gets removed, and then the skull part is fixed back in place. 
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation is used to kill cancer cells after surgery. 
  • Chemotherapy:  It is used to kill cancer cells after surgery, or to relieve symptoms if the tumor cannot be removed. 
  • Radiosurgery: Many small beams of radiation target the cancer to kill it if a surgery cannot be performed. 
  • Carmustine implant (glial chips): It is a new way to provide chemotherapy for some cases of advanced tumors. Implants are inserted into the brain. 
  • Medications: They are used to treat and relieve symptoms (e.g., headache, seizures, nausea and vomiting). 

Recovery rates and response to treatment:
They depend on several factors, including: the location, size, and grade of the tumor in the brain, as well as the timing of diagnosis. 

What happens after recovery?  
After treatment, you may have some chronic symptoms as a result of the tumor, and they may persist. They include: 
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty walking
  • Speech problems

Rehabilitation or physical therapy may be required to help you recover from or adapt to these symptoms. 
It is important that you follow a healthy lifestyle to reduce the risk of a stroke. This includes:  
  • Quitting smoking if you’re a smoker; 
  • Maintaining a healthy diet; 
  • Getting regular exercise;

You may be able to gradually return to your normal life during the recovery phase; however, there will be a few things that you may need to avoid for life (such as contact sports).

Because the main cause of brain diseases is unknown, there is no certain way to prevent them. However, avoiding environmental factors such as smoking and excessive exposure to radiation may help reduce the risk of brain tumors. 

For more information: Brain Cancer Guide​ (available in Arabic only)

Last Update : 29 September 2021 07:06 AM
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