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Understanding your risk

Like other cancers, your risk depends on many variables, including:

  • family history
  • lifestyle behavior (e.g. smoking and alcohol use)
  • general health

While there is no direct method of prevention for a brain tumor, maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle that includes limited alcohol and tobacco usage and a healthy diet is recommended.

Optum’s oncology team offers comprehensive cancer risk assessments and hereditary cancer genetics evaluation programs to help you identify your risk.

Symptoms

Depending on the size and location of the tumor, there can be many symptoms associated with brain tumors such as:

  • Recurring Headaches
  • Hearing loss
  • Vision loss
  • Blood clot(s)
  • Loss of coordination
  • Behavioral changes
  • Seizures
  • Fatigue

While these symptoms can be a direct result of brain tumors, it is also possible that there can be no symptoms pre-diagnosis. If you are experiencing a recurring combination of any of the above symptoms, contact your physician immediately for an appointment.

Diagnosing brain tumors

Optum neurologists and brain tumor experts have been extensively trained to detect brain tumors at the earliest stages. While there are many symptoms associated with a tumor, it’s important to note that a brain tumor can only be diagnosed by a physician after testing such as:

Neurological exam

A basic neurological exam will include eye, hearing, reflex, coordination and “sense” tests, among others, in order to assess someone’s overall state. By testing all of these areas, a doctor can better determine exactly what is causing the symptoms. If the exam leads a doctor to believe a brain tumor may be present, a scan will be ordered.

Brain scans

These scans create images of the brain over x-rays in order to see all tumors, even those that are behind the bones of the skull or spine. MRI and CT scans are the most common, but there are many more that can be offered. If the scans show an abnormality, additional scans may be required, or you will be sent to a specialist.

Lab tests

Tests such as blood work, a lumbar puncture, or endocrine evaluations may be used to aid in the diagnosis of a brain tumor. Depending on the type of test, you may be given an injection to determine the tumor’s location, or you may have to provide a sample of fluid to determine if the tumor has spread. 

Biopsies

A biopsy is a surgical procedure in which a surgeon removes and tests a sample of tissue to determine if cancerous cells are present. In other situations, the surgeon can remove the entire tumor. 

Types of brain tumors

There are over 120 types of brain tumors, classified by the way they look, the area affected, and the genetic information of the tumor.

Any tumor can be either benign (unlikely to spread) or more dangerously, malignant (quick-spreading). Here are the most common types of brain tumors:

  • Meningioma: The most common primary brain tumor, these are found near the top and outer curve of the brain, arising from meninges, or thin layers of tissue covering the brain and spinal cord.
  • Glioma: This is any tumor that arises from the supportive tissue, called glia, of the brain.
  • Glioblastoma: These tumors can be found anywhere in the brain or spinal cord and typically form in the cells of the supportive tissue of the brain. Usually, they are highly malignant since they reproduce quickly.
  • Pituitary Tumor: Tumors arising from the pituitary gland are typically benign and slow growing.

Treatments

Optum’s brain tumor specialists are experienced in the most advanced treatment options, including:

  • Surgery: to remove the tumor or affected area.
  • Chemotherapy: chemicals administered in pill or IV form to kill and slow the growth of cancer cells.
  • Radiation therapy: high-powered beams of energy, such as X-rays and protons, that are used to kill and slow the growth of cancer cells.

Your doctor may prescribe further treatments as necessary to relieve pain and tumor symptoms. 

Medical care and help

To find a brain tumor specialist near you, visit our providers page.

Click here to learn more about Optum’s minimally invasive robotic assisted surgery options.

Contact us if you have any questions.