Symptoms of brain tumor

From the 'American Cancer Society)

Signs and symptoms of brain and spinal cord tumors

Signs and symptoms from brain and spinal cord tumors may occur gradually and become worse over time, or they may happen suddenly.

General symptoms

Tumors in any part of the brain may raise the pressure inside the skull (known as intracranial pressure). This can be caused by growth of the tumor, swelling in the brain, or blockage of the flow of cerebrospinal fluid. Increased pressure can lead to general symptoms such as:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Crossed eyes or blurred vision
  • Balance problems
  • Behavior changes
  • Seizures
  • Drowsiness or even coma

Headaches that get worse over time are a common symptom of brain tumors. However, not all brain tumors cause headaches, and most headaches are not caused by tumors.

In some children, seizures are the first symptom of a brain tumor. Most seizures in children are not caused by brain tumors, but if your child has a seizure, your child’s doctor may refer you to a neurologist (a doctor who specializes in brain and nervous system problems) to make sure it wasn’t caused by a brain tumor or other serious disease.

In the school-aged child, other general symptoms of tumors can include poor school performance, fatigue, and personality changes.

In the first few years of life, other symptoms of tumors can include irritability, loss of appetite, developmental delay, and a drop in intellectual and physical abilities.

If the child can cooperate, the doctor can sometimes tell if pressure inside the skull is increased by looking in the child’s eyes for swelling of the optic nerve (known as papilledema). In very young children who can’t complain of symptoms, a parent may notice an increase in head size, with or without bulging of the soft spots of the skull (fontanelles). This happens because the bones of the skull haven’t grown together yet, and increased pressure from a tumor can push them apart.

Symptoms of tumors in different parts of the central nervous system

Tumors in different parts of the central nervous system can cause different symptoms. But these symptoms can be caused by any disease in that particular location in the brain – they do not always mean a child has a brain tumor.

Brain and spinal cord tumors often cause problems with the specific functions of the region they develop in. For example:

  • Tumors in the parts of the cerebrum (the large, outer part of the brain) that control movement or sensation may cause weakness or numbness in a part of the body.
  • Tumors in or near the parts of the cerebrum responsible for language may cause problems with speech or even understanding words.
  • Tumors in the front part of the cerebrum can sometimes affect thinking and personality.
  • Tumors in an area of the brain called the basal ganglia typically cause abnormal movements and body positions.
  • If the tumor is in the cerebellum, which controls coordination, the child may have trouble walking or with other normal functions, even eating.
  • Tumors in the back part of the cerebrum, or around the pituitary gland, the optic nerves, or certain other cranial nerves may cause vision problems.
  • Tumors in or near other cranial nerves may lead to loss of hearing, balance problems, weakness of some facial muscles, or trouble swallowing.
  • Spinal cord tumors may cause numbness, weakness, or lack of coordination in the arms and/or legs, as well as bladder or bowel problems.

Having one or more of the symptoms above does not mean that your child definitely has a brain or spinal cord tumor. All of these symptoms may have other causes. Still, if your child has any of these symptoms, especially if they don’t go away or get worse over time, see your child’s doctor so that the cause can be found and treated, if needed.

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