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Brain tumours are tumours that grow inside the skull, in nerve tissue or the lining of the brain (meninges). Tumours are divided into three categories, depending on which tissue they are growing in: meningiomas, neuromas and gliomas. Unlike with tumours in other organs, there is no black and white distinction between malignant and benign brain tumours. Even benign tumours that do not form metastases can cause life-threatening damage to the brain.
The most common types of brain tumour are gliomas, meningiomas and neuromas. Gliomas are a type of malignant tumour that are found in the brain’s supporting tissue. Gliomas are categorised as either astrocytomas, oligodendrogliomas, glioblastomas or mixed gliomas. They affect people of all ages. Glioblastomas are the most common type of malignant brain tumour in adults.
Meningiomas develop in the lining of the brain (meninges). Among the meningiomas, there are malignant and less malignant varieties. Meningiomas are virtually only found in adults and most commonly develop in people between the ages of 40 and 60.
Neuromas grow in the cells that surround the nerve fibres. They most frequently occur on the auditory nerve inside the skull, which is why such tumours are called acoustic neuromas. Neuromas are usually benign, but like all brain tumours, their growth can damage the surrounding nerve tissue.
What causes these various different brain tumours is largely unknown. It has not yet been proven whether electromagnetic radiation plays a role in the development of tumours.
Brain tumour symptoms can vary widely, depending on where the tumour is located. An acoustic neuroma primarily causes problems with hearing and balance. However, the symptoms caused by other tumours are less specific. Headaches, dizziness or nausea could indicate a brain tumour, although such symptoms are much more likely to be caused by something harmless. Sudden inexplicable health problems or ongoing symptoms should always be checked out by a doctor.
Sometimes brain tumours can cause distorted speech, signs of paralysis, loss of feeling, muscle weakness or seizures.
Various different medical examinations are used to diagnose brain tumours. These include comprehensive neurological examinations, as well as computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Occasionally a lumbar puncture is carried out to investigate the brain fluid, or an electroencephalogram is used to measure the brain’s electrical waves.
The treatment is determined according to the source of the tumour and its location. Whenever possible, an attempt is made to surgically remove the tumour. Surgical treatment can be successful in the case of benign tumours like neuromas or some meningiomas. Brain operations are carried out using special, modern neurological procedures like laser surgery and radiosurgery, as well as technologies such as surgical robots.
For some malignant tumours, or if an operation is not possible due to the location of the tumour, the treatment options include radiotherapy and chemotherapy.