Not all brain tumors cause symptoms, and some (such as tumors of the pituitary gland) are often not found until after death. The symptoms of brain cancer are numerous and not specific to brain tumors, meaning they can be caused by many other illnesses as well. The only way to know for sure what is causing the symptoms is to undergo diagnostic testing. Symptoms can be caused by:
A tumor pressing on or encroaching on other parts of the brain and keeping them from functioning normally.
Swelling in the brain caused by the tumor or surrounding inflammation.
The symptoms of primary and metastatic brain cancers are similar.
For more information, U.S. residents may call the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) Cancer Information Service toll-free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Eastern Time. A trained Cancer Information Specialist is available to answer your questions.
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Gradual changes in intellectual or emotional capacity
In many people, the onset of these symptoms is very gradual and may be missed by both the person with the brain tumor and the family. Occasionally, however, these symptoms appear more rapidly. In some instances, the person acts as if he or she is having a stroke.
When to Seek Medical Care
See your health care provider right away if you have any of the following symptoms:
Unexplained, persistent vomiting
Double vision or unexplained blurring of vision, especially on only one side
Although headaches are thought to be a common symptom of brain cancer, they may not occur until late in the progression of the disease. If any significant change in your headache pattern occurs, your health care provider may suggest that you go the hospital.
If you have a known brain tumor, any new symptoms or relatively sudden or rapid worsening of symptoms warrants a trip to the nearest hospital emergency department. Be on the lookout for the following new symptoms:
Changes in mental status, such as excessive sleepiness, memory problems, or inability to concentrate
Visual changes or other sensory problems
Difficulty with speech or in expressing yourself
Changes in behavior or personality
Clumsiness or difficulty walking
Nausea or vomiting (especially in middle-aged or older people)
Sudden onset of fever, especially after chemotherapy.
Author: Charles Davis, MD, PhD, Research Director, Professor of Emergency Medicine, Department of Surgery, Division of Emergency Medicine, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Brain Cancer Symptoms from eMedicineHealth
Coauthor(s): Nitin Tandon, MD, Staff Physician, Department of Surgery, Division of Neurosurgery, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.
Editors: Brian F Chinnock, MD, Assistant Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center at El Paso; Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD, Senior Pharmacy Editor, eMedicine; Jerry Balentine, DO, Professor of Emergency Medicine, New York College of Osteopathic Medicine; Medical Director, Saint Barnabas Hospital.