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Simply entertaining the thought — Could my headache, seizure or memory loss be a sign of brain cancer? — can be frightening. But it can also be life-saving.
“Early detection of a malignant brain tumor is extremely important,” says Sherif Makar, MD, a brain cancer specialist at AdventHealth. “A malignant brain tumor that is earlier in its detection likely has a better chance to be operable, which in turn translates to a survival benefit.”
That means it’s important to know which symptoms to look for, whether they’re experienced by you or a loved one. It’s not always obvious what makes a certain symptom important, so we asked Dr. Makar about brain cancer red flags.
Top Brain Cancer Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of a brain tumor depend on how large it is and where in the brain it’s located. A tumor in the part of the brain that controls movement could lead to dizziness, while a mass in the area that controls speech may lead someone to stumble over their words.
Dr. Makar says these symptoms tend to get worse over the course of days or weeks. The most common symptoms include:
- Memory loss
- Motor weakness (a lack of muscle strength)
- Visual symptoms (including blurred or double vision)
- Problems with thinking or speaking
- Personality changes
Of course, having a headache every so often is normal. What makes a headache caused by a brain tumor different?
Unfortunately, there’s no obvious sign that a headache is caused by a brain tumor. These headaches tend to be on both sides of the head and resemble a tension headache, which can feel like a pressure or clamp squeezing the brain. But they can also be on just one side of the brain and feel like migraines or other headache types.
But Dr. Makar says there are some headache warning signs:
- A headache that comes with one or more of the other symptoms listed above
- A headache that comes with fever
- New headaches in adults over age 50
“A prior history of headaches does not rule out the possibility of a brain tumor,” Dr. Makar says, and “a change in headache pattern is a diagnostic ‘red flag.’”
If you notice any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor.
Brain Cancer Symptoms to Look for in Loved Ones
It can be hard to notice changes in our own personality and ability to think clearly. Dr. Makar says family and close friends may be able to recognize the less serious symptoms of a brain tumor before the patient can.
“These changes may be mild and otherwise appreciated by someone who knows the person best,” Dr. Makar says.
Staying Vigilant Matters
If it’s caught early enough, a tumor can often be removed by a surgeon. But a variety of other therapies are being explored, usually in combination with radiation and chemotherapy, Dr. Makar says.
Some approaches use vaccines to stimulate a patient’s own immune system or interrupt the cancer cells’ reproduction. While it is challenging to treat, a brain cancer diagnosis isn’t a death sentence, so stay on the lookout for symptoms.
For Dr. Makar, honesty, education and compassion are the building blocks of a close, supportive relationship with a patient.
“This helps to build hope through trust and confidence in the care they are receiving,” he says.
AdventHealth Cancer Institute weaves together every part of its patients’ care so they can stay focused on what matters to them. That means our nurse navigator and specialists coordinate your medical treatment with the supportive care you may want, like spiritual guidance and mental health counseling.