As you and your family prepare for your first visit at Stanford, you’ll likely have many questions about your care here. This overview explains our diagnosis and treatment planning, to help you understand what to expect as you go through the early steps of your care.
Please consider us a trusted health partner before, during, and after your treatment. We offer extensive resources to assist you with every facet of your care – physical, emotional, spiritual, and social. We’re here to help you and your family each step of the way.
Brain tumors are masses of cells in or near the brain that have multiplied in an uncontrolled way.
Types of brain tumors
Brain cancer can be malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous). Sometimes brain tumors advance quickly. Other times they grow so slowly that they do not require immediate treatment.
There are many types of brain cancer. Some of the most common include:
- Acoustic neuroma—These tumors, usually benign, grow within the protective outer layer of the nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain. Acoustic neuromas require treatment to avoid eventual nerve damage.
- Glioma—This cancer type includes any tumor that arises from the supportive (“gluey”) tissue of the brain. This tissue, called “glia,” helps to keep the neurons in place and functioning well.
- Glioblastoma—This cancerous type of primary brain tumor usually occurs in the cerebrum (largest part of the brain, with left and right hemispheres). This tumor often requires surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
- Pituitary—Tumors of the pituitary gland include adenomas, which are usually noncancerous (benign), and carcinomas, which are cancerous (malignant) and much more rare.
Cancer that originates in the brain is called primary brain cancer.
Cancer that spreads to the brain, after starting in another part of the body, is called secondary or metastatic cancer.
Diagnosing brain tumors
Diagnosing a brain tumor involves several steps. Your doctor typically starts by asking about your personal medical history and your family medical history.
Doctors use a neurological exam to diagnose brain tumors. During this exam, your doctor looks for changes to your vision, hearing, balance, coordination, strength, and reflexes. These changes can identify which part of your brain may be affected by a tumor.
You may undergo diagnostic tests that include:
- Imaging scans such as MRI and CT
- Spinal fluid test
- Biopsy of tissue from the tumor
Doctors categorize cancerous brain tumors into 4 grades. Factors that determine the grade include how fast the tumor is growing and its risk of spreading. The grade helps your doctor determine the safest and most effective options for treatment.
Treatments for brain tumors
Every cancer is different, even in the early stages. The best treatment for 1 person might not be the best treatment for another person. Your doctor will help you make an informed decision about which options may be right for you. Your treatment plan may consist of 1 or any combination of the following:
- Drug therapy
- Radiation therapy
Clinical Trials—Some clinical trials look at new methods for detecting, diagnosing, and treating tumors. Others evaluate new combinations of approved, existing approaches.
Depending on your individual circumstances, a clinical trial may provide a treatment option for you. Like any treatment, clinical trials have possible risks and benefits.
Published November 2019
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