Brain Cancer

ThedaCare Brain Cancer Services and Treatment

About Brain Cancer

Brain cancer affects people of all ages. Along with leukemia, it accounts for more than half of all cancer cases in children. Brain cancer can either originate in the brain (known as primary brain cancer), or, more commonly, spread to the brain in the advanced stages of other types of cancer, such as breast, colon, and lung, (known as metastatic brain cancer).

Risks and Warning Signs

While the exact causes of brain cancer and brain tumors are unknown, there are some factors that may increase your risk. These include age, gender, family history, race, certain infections, diseases, or viruses, and previous radiation treatment to the brain or head. Other factors, such as exposure to certain chemicals, are still being studied.

Talk to your doctor if you, your child, or other loved one is experiencing any of these common warning signs:

  • Headaches, which tend to be worse in the morning
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Confusion
  • Changes in the ability to talk, hear, or see
  • Difficulties with balance or walking
  • Problems with thinking or memory
  • Muscle jerking or twitching
  • Numbness or tingling in the arms or legs

Symptoms vary based on the location of a tumor, if one exists. However, some symptoms can mirror the warning signs of stroke. If you or a loved one experience stroke-like symptoms, seek emergency care immediately.

Are There Any Screenings for Brain Cancer?

Currently, there are no preventive screening tests for brain cancer. That’s why it’s important to meet with your doctor right away if you’re experiencing any suspicious symptoms. Brain cancer can occur whether you’re at risk for the disease or not, so you should never ignore possible warning signs—even if you feel otherwise healthy.

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Diagnosis

If you’re experiencing symptoms, or if you’ve had a medical episode such as a seizure, visit your doctor as soon as possible. Diagnosis typically begins with diagnostic imaging tests. This will include a CT (computed tomography) scan, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), or both. These tests produce detailed images of your brain and will identify the location of any tumors.

If you do have a tumor, it will likely need to be biopsied to analyze the tissue and determine if it’s benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). If your tumor is cancerous, the biopsy will also identify how advanced the cancer is (known as the "stage"). At this point, you may also have additional imaging tests to see if the cancer has spread to other areas of your body.

Learn more about testing and diagnosis

Treatment

When cancer is caught in the early stages, surgery is often the preferred method of treatment. Many times, a neurosurgeon, who specializes in diseases of the brain and spine, will remove your tumor during your biopsy procedure. You may or may not need chemotherapy or radiation after surgery.

When tumors are located in areas of the brain that make it too risky to operate, or cancer is more advanced, chemotherapy or radiation, including non-invasive CyberKnife® robotic radiosurgery, are often the most effective methods of treatment. ThedaCare Cancer Care provides services throughout northeast Wisconsin.

Education will be a big part of your treatment, and you’ll have the final say on any decisions. Your doctor will help you understand your specific situation, answer your questions, and provide resources to help you learn more on your own. You’ll want to research your treatment options and learn about outcomes, to decide what’s best for you and your family. While you may come across alternative treatments in your research, be wary any of that seem too good to be true or ask for money up front.

Learn more about treatment options

Living Well in Tough Times

Cancer not only affects you physically, but emotionally, too. Many brain cancer patients may have to deal with hair loss, either as a result of radiation or chemotherapy, or as a part of surgery preparation. This can be especially difficult for women. Our on-site cosmetologist can help you find a wig and provide skincare tips to help you look and feel your best.

ThedaCare also offers additional resources to help you cope with the effects of cancer, including support groups and one-on-one or family counseling.  Our Behavioral Health Specialists can help you confront the anxiety, depression and feelings of hopelessness or fear that can accompany a brain cancer diagnosis.

Take charge of your health