Your brain and spinal column make up the nervous system (CNS) which controls all the body’s vital functions including thought, speech and movement. Any abnormal growth within this system and it could affect some bodily function of yours.
But first, a little bit about the brain – it’s divided into three parts. These include the cerebrum, cerebellum and the brainstem. The meninges are a layer that surround the brain and spinal cord and protects them.
Normally, when cells become old or damaged, they die and become replaced with healthy cells. In some cases, these damaged cells build up instead and form a mass known as tumor. These tumors can be either benign or malignant. Primary tumors are those that grow at their point of origination while secondary tumors or metastases have spread to the CNS from somewhere else.
Benign tumors are not cancerous, grow slowly and once removed, do not grow back. They can however press on some sensitive part of the brain and result in health complications. And in some cases, benign brain tumors can also become malignant (cancerous) and become life-threatening. Some of the cancerous cells can break away and invade surrounding tissues, but rarely spread to other parts of the body.
Tumors can be divided into grades:
- Grade 1: Benign tissue with slow-growing cells that almost look normal
- Grade 2: Tissue is malignant and the cells a little less than normal-looking
- Grade 3: The malignant cells look very different from normal cells and are growing actively
- Grade 4: Cells look mostly abnormal and grow very quickly
Tumors are defined as being low-grade (grades 1 & 2) when the cells look almost normal and grow slowly and high-grade (grades 3 & 4) when growing fast.
Primary brain tumors are named after their point of origination. The following are a few examples of adult tumors:
- Glioma: They originate from the glial cells in the supportive tissues of the brain; the following are examples of gliomas.
- Astrocytoma: These tumors originate from the star-shaped glial cells called astrocytes, usually originating in the cerebrum.
- Oligodendroglioma: These tumors arise from the fatty substance surrounding nerves. Usually seen among the middle-aged, it’s usually grade 2 or 3.
- Meningioma: These are slow-growing benign tumors of the covering of the brain. They account for about one-third of all brain tumors in adults.
Tumors common in children include:
- Medulloblastoma: This is a grade 4 primitive neuroectodermal tumor.
- Astrocytoma: This low-grade tumor can occur anywhere in the brain in children.
- Brainstem glioma: This can be a low-grade or high-grade tumor found in the lowest part of the brain.
- Ependymoma: This tumor arises in the central canal of the spinal cord and can be grade 1, 2, or 3.