Brain Tumors: A Life-Altering Event Yet There is Hope. - McLeod Health

By Dr. Catherine Tannahill Florence Neurosurgery and Spine at McLeod Health

Currently, there are one million Americans living with a brain tumor. In the year 2023 alone, the National Brain Tumor Society anticipates that more than 94,000 United States citizens will have received a primary brain tumor diagnosis.  By the time we are ringing in the New Year, it is expected that we will have lost more than 18,900 Americans this year due to a malignant brain tumor. hyperchromatic pleomorphic nuclei

When a patient hears the words “brain tumor” the natural tendency is to think the worst, but there is hope and there are choices for patients who develop a brain tumor.

The diagnosis of a brain tumor is extremely complex as there are more than 100 distinct types of primary brain tumors and each type sometimes carries radically different treatment options and survival rates. Whereas some tumors can have a poor prognosis, others are imminently curable, and, once removed, the patient can have a normal life expectancy.

There are two basic classes of brain tumors: those that arise from the brain itself (primary tumors) and those that spread to the brain from elsewhere (metastatic tumors). Primary brain tumors can be highly malignant, benign, or somewhere in between.

One of the most common tumors that we see is a meningioma. A meningioma is a primary brain tumor that arises from cells that form the covering of the brain or “meninges.” These tumors can cause neurologic deficits such as weakness, visual loss, stroke, seizures, and even death. Yet with surgery, they can sometimes be cured.

Metastatic brain tumors are also very common and are, by definition, cancerous. Treatment for these tumors often involves a combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Location is extremely important in brain tumors. Although some tumors may indeed be benign (no cancer cells present), they can still be life-threatening based on their size and potential to damage adjacent normal brain. In many cases, the location of a brain tumor and the structures around it determine the risks of treatment.

The management of brain tumors can be quite complex and often requires a team approach involving Neurosurgeons, Medical Oncologists, Radiation Oncologists, Neurologists, Medical Physicians, and Nurses.

Fortunately, we have many tools available in the management of brain tumors. Through computer-assisted microsurgery, we can remove many tumors while preserving normal brain function. Some tumors are not appropriate for open surgery. In certain cases, we can treat these tumors with Stereotactic Radiosurgery (SRS). This procedure is performed together by Neurosurgeons, Radiation Oncologists and Medical Physicists. A non-invasive treatment approach, SRS allows the team to precisely deliver high doses of radiation to a

computer-defined tumor target while sparing normal brain tissue.

Another treatment option is chemotherapy. Over the last 25 years, a significant amount of information has been learned about the genetics of brain tumors. Today some brain tumors are being treated with targeted chemotherapy based on the specific genetic profile of the individual tumor.

Although many advances have been made recently in the treatment of brain tumors, even greater ones are sure to come during the next decade.

Neurosurgeon Dr. Catherine Tannahill cares for patients at Florence Neurosurgery and Spine at McLeod Health. Dr. Tannahill provides the full spectrum of neurological and spine care, with a special interest in brain and spinal tumor surgery and degenerative spine disease. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 843-673-0122.

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