Brain Tumors 101

Few things are more devastating than receiving the news that you have a brain tumor. But what is a brain tumor? How can you find out if you have one? And, if one is found, what can you do about it? Stephanie Wagner, M.D., a neuro-oncologist with Indiana University Health Neuroscience, IU Health Physicians and the IU Simon Cancer Center has the answers to your questions.

So, what is a brain tumor?
A brain tumor is an abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells within the brain.

How can you find out if you have a brain tumor?
There is no screening. Usually, you need to have a symptom or an injury that prompts a medical team to perform a CT scan of your skull or an MRI of your brain.

What are some common symptoms of a possible brain tumor?
The signs and symptoms of a brain tumor vary greatly and depend on the brain tumor's size, location and rate of growth. Some general signs and symptoms of a possible brain tumor include headaches, seizures, nausea, localized weakness, fatigue and problems with hearing or vision.

Is a brain tumor considered cancer?
Not all brain tumors are cancerous.

What’s the difference between a benign brain tumor and a malignant brain tumor?
A benign tumor is slow-growing and non-cancerous. A malignant tumor, on the other hand, is cancerous and requires immediate treatment. When we grade tumors, benign tumors are considered either Grade 1 or 2, and malignant tumors are considered either Grade 3 or 4. Interestingly, a high percentage of low grade, benign tumors can transform into higher grade, malignant tumors.

What can doctors do to treat a brain tumor?
Brain tumors are usually treated through surgery, radiation or chemotherapy.

Who is most at risk for developing a brain tumor?
A brain tumor can happen to anyone. Low grade, benign brain tumors are more common in children and young adults, while high grade, malignant tumors are more common in people over age 60.

Are there any new treatments in the works for brain tumors?
Nowadays, we are testing vaccines that can target a certain protein in a patient’s tumor. We also have targeted therapies that can block a particular pathway. We are also developing vaccines that can be created from the patient’s own tumor and used to boost the patient’s immune system to fight the cancer. One such study involving patients who have the most aggressive kind of brain tumor – a glioblastoma multiforme, also known as a GBM tumor – is currently underway at IU Health Methodist Hospital, the only site in Indiana offering the clinical trial. Previous studies show that such vaccines can potentially double a patient’s survival time.


Indiana University Health is consistently ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the nation’s best hospitals for neurology and neurosurgery care.  Read about the new IU Health Neuroscience Center, which opened in August 2012.

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