Not all brain tumors cause symptoms, and some (such as tumors of the pituitary gland) are often not found unless a CT scan or MRI is done for another reason. The symptoms of brain cancer are numerous and not specific to brain tumors, meaning they can be caused by many other illnesses. 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.
The following symptoms are most common:
Other nonspecific symptoms and signs include the following:
- Altered mental status -- changes in concentration, memory, attention, or alertness
- Nausea, vomiting
- Abnormalities in vision
- Difficulty with speech
- Gradual changes in intellectual capacity or emotional response
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
Seek emergency medical help 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
- Lethargy or increased sleepiness
- New seizures
- New pattern or type of headaches
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.