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Clinical Specialties - Cancer

Brain Cancer (Primary)

San MDTBrain cancer or a brain tumour is a mass of abnormal cells growing in the brain. The tumour may be called benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous), but both types can be serious and may need urgent treatment.

Neuro-Oncology MDTThe brain cancer experts at Sydney Adventist Hospital use several methods to confirm your diagnosis and determine the stage of your disease. They have experience with early-stage as well as complex cancer; have access to advanced diagnostic tools and a wide range of treatments, including clinical trials. At the same time, our supportive clinicians help you manage side effects to support your quality of life. Explore this section to learn more about brain cancer, its side effects and your treatment options.

About brain cancer

Cancer (also known as a tumour) that starts in the brain is a primary brain tumour. Primary brain tumours may be grouped into "benign" and "malignant" tumours. Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), astrocytoma, medulloblastoma and ependymoma are examples of primary brain tumours, however there are over 120 different types of brain tumours. Sometimes tumours in the brain are due to spread from a different primary site. This is referred to as a secondary or metastatic disease.

A benign tumour consists of very slow growing cells, usually has distinct borders, and rarely spreads. Treatment and/or surgery is often effective, however, if a benign tumour is located in a vital area of the brain, it can be considered life-threatening.

According to the Cancer Council of Australia, every year an estimated 2,000 malignant brain tumours are diagnosed in Australia. Malignant spinal cord tumours are rare. About 55 people are diagnosed with malignant spinal cord or other central nervous system tumours each year. Benign brain and spinal cord tumours are more common than malignant tumours.

What are the symptoms of brain cancer?

Signs and symptoms often relate to where in the brain the tumour has developed. Seizures, for example, are common in people with brain tumours, even after they’ve been treated. Depending on where your tumour is located, it can cause temporary problems in consciousness, movement, or speech.

Other symptoms can include:

  • Headaches
  • Speech problems
  • Physical weakness, often on one side of the body
  • Imbalance or difficulty walking
  • Impaired vision or a restricted field of vision

Keep in mind that symptoms of a brain tumour often resemble those caused by other diseases. If you experience any of these symptoms and or have concerns, speak with your doctor.

How is brain cancer diagnosed?

There are over 120 types of brain cancers and the treatment can often be unique to the particular cancer.  Therefore, to properly treat a primary brain tumour it is vital that an accurate diagnosis is made.

Doctors will use a range of tests to determine a diagnosis, including:

  • Your medical history and the symptoms you exhibit
  • Examination of your brain and results of diagnostic tests including CT, PET and MRI scans
  • Size, location, and stage of the tumour as determined through diagnostic imaging
  • Results of a biopsy (tissue sample) if needed
  • The condition of your overall health and ability to deal with various treatments

Once a diagnosis has been made, your integrated team of neuro oncology experts will use these test results to determine the stage or extent of the cancer which will largely influence the recommended treatment approach.

What are my treatment options for brain cancer?

The main treatments for brain cancer are surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy, either used singularly or in combination.

Steroids or drugs to prevent seizures may also be given to reduce symptoms.  In some cases, patients may be eligible for a clinical trial.

The aim of treatment may be to remove the tumour completely, slow its growth, or relieve symptoms by shrinking the tumour and reducing swelling.

The preferred treatment method for you and your cancer will depend on:

  • Type, size, stage, location and genetic make-up of the tumour
  • Your age, medical history and general state of health
  • Your symptoms

If you have brain cancer, our multidisciplinary team of specialists will discuss your cancer and develop a treatment plan that is best for you.  Discuss your plan with your doctor and ask about what resources are available to you after treatment, such as rehabilitation and other support services.

Resources and useful brain cancer links
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Sydney Adventist Hospital Clinical Specialties and Services