Thankfully, brain tumors are rare. But 80,000 people will still be diagnosed this year, and 700,000 Americans are living with a brain tumor right now. As with many other cancers, early detection is critical. We asked experts what symptoms of brain tumors to be alert for. If you experience any of the following, it’s a good idea to consult your physician.
A Different Kind of a Headache
Many of us get headaches, sometimes often. But how do you know when a headache is suspicious and might be cancer?
“Changes in frequency, type or intensity of headache should prompt neurological evaluation,” says Santosh Kesari, MD, Ph.D., neuro-oncologist at the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
The Worst Headache of Your Life
It might qualify as the “worst headache of your life,” or if you get migraines, this headache might be longer lasting, says Joshua Mansour, MD, a triple-board-certified oncologist in Los Angeles. Get it checked out.
A Headache That Wakes You Up
Persistent and worsening headaches, especially if a headache wakes you up at night, are signs you shouldn’t ignore, says Martin Mortazavi, MD, neurosurgeon and chairman of the California Institute of Neuroscience.
Forgetfulness and short-term memory loss could indicate a tumor in the temporal or frontal lobes of the brain, which controls memory. “Sometimes this can occur over months to years, and patients can be thought to have a dementia condition before imaging is done to reveal a brain tumor,” says Kesari.
Unexplained Nausea or Vomiting
Persistent queasiness or vomiting that has no apparent explanation can be the sign of a brain tumor, says Mortazavi.
Unexplained weakness in your arms or legs could be a sign of a brain tumor in the frontal lobe motor cortex, the neurons and pathways that control the muscles, says Kesari.
“Patients present with change in behavior, including disinhibition presenting as risky behaviors, or apathy and doing less they normally would,” says Kesari. “Patients may not be as effective at job or home functions. These patients usually have tumors in the frontal lobe where executive functions reside.”
If you have persistent double vision, you should report it to your doctor, says Mansour. Sometimes vision changes may be more subtle: “Patients may or may not be aware of vision loss with brain tumors,” says Kesari. “They may keep bumping into things on the side of the body related to the vision loss, and/or have repeated car accidents on the side of the loss.”
Slurred or thick speech—or fluent but nonsensical speech—could result from a tumor affecting the speech areas in the brain’s temporal or parietal lobes, says Kesari.
Losing your balance, feeling unsteady or your feet, or weakness or numbness in the legs, can be a brain tumor symptom. Generally, it’s related to a tumor affecting the frontal lobe, the motor fibers that reside there, or the cerebellum, says Kesari.
Sudden hearing changes are always worthy of investigation by a doctor. A brain tumor affecting the eighth cranial nerve can cause hearing loss, ringing in the ear, or vertigo, says Kesari.
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