Brain Tumors: Types & Symptoms

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At Houston Methodist Hospital we offer patients world-class, personalized treatment of brain and pituitary tumors.

Our approach to healing takes advantage of recent advances in medical science, such as using a variety of new technologies to study each tumor and optimizing treatment for each individual based on the genetic profile of the patient and/or their tumor. We are committed to creating a compassionate environment for our patients. Many of our doctors are active researchers and educators, tackling big issues in brain, spine and pituitary cancers, and training the next generation of specialists in these areas.

In classifying brain tumors, the first distinction is whether the tumor originated in the brain or started in another area of the body and spread to the brain.

  • Primary brain tumors, such as glioblastomas and anaplastic astrocytomas, are among the types of tumor that originate in the brain.
  • Secondary, or metastatic, brain tumors originate in other parts of the body and spread to the brain.

Primary Brain Tumors
Primary malignant brain tumors account for two percent of all cancers in adults in the United States; they are classified based on the type of cell from which they arise and their appearance:
A brain tumor may cause a range of symptoms and some of them may not be immediately obvious:
  • Persistent headaches
  • Seizures
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Neurocognitive symptoms
  • Personality changes 
These symptoms may vary depending on the type, size and location of the tumor.

Brain tumors can be identified with imaging, usually beginning with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and a comprehensive neurosurgical evaluation. Tissue samples may be needed to confirm any diagnosis. Primary brain tumors rarely metastasize (spread) outside the central nervous system.

Primary brain tumors may be treated with surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or a combination of all three. In many instances, the doctors at Houston Methodist will offer novel investigational treatments with a high likelihood of success through multicenter trials (clinical studies conducted at several research institutions/hospitals).

Metastatic Brain Tumors
Metastatic brain tumors (also called secondary brain tumors) are the most common form of brain tumors. They arise from cancer cells that metastasize (travel or spread) to the brain from another part of the body. Breast, lung, skin (melanoma), colon and kidney cancers most often metastasize to the brain. Patterns of metastasis differ among different primary tumor types.
  • When breast or kidney cancer spreads to the brain, it usually causes a single tumor (also referred to as a “lesion” or “focus”).
  • When lung, melanoma or colon cancer spreads to the brain, it often causes multiple tumors (foci). This occurs in about 80 percent of metastatic brain tumors.
  • Metastatic brain tumors are more common in middle-aged and elderly adults than in younger individuals.
In most cases, patients know they have cancer in the primary location and the brain metastasis is often found during a routine computerized tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study. In less than 10 percent of patients, the metastatic brain tumors are diagnosed before the primary cancer and are found as a result of neurological symptoms. When this occurs, further tests are done to determine where the cancer originated.

Often metastatic brain tumors are found before they cause symptoms. In other cases, patients may experience symptoms that prompt investigation:
  • Seizures
  • Headaches
  • Loss of coordination (being unbalanced or weak on one side of the body)
  • Behavioral or cognitive changes
Specific symptoms depend on the location of the tumor in the brain.

Our Programs
Houston Methodist houses four programs aimed at providing tumor-specific clinical care and research while fostering interdisciplinary collaboration (multiple medical and surgical specialties).

Brain Metastasis Initiative
The Brain Metastasis Initiative treats patients who have cancer from other areas of the body (primary cancer) that has metastasized (spread) to the brain and/or spine. Treatment combines minimally invasive surgery with stereotactic (highly focused) radiation and medical oncology (chemotherapy drugs) to reduce deaths from intracranial (within the skull) metastases. All patients with brain tumors are offered personalized and aggressive treatment plans including surgery, medical oncology and/or focused radiation therapy. Our novel technology has revolutionized the care for these patients, and in most cases, we can control for many years the cancer that has spread to the brain. These interventions are, for the most part, minimally invasive and spare function.

Pituitary Disorders Program
The Pituitary Disorders Program focuses on aggressive treatment protocols, including dopamine agonists, somatostatin analogs (drugs that mimic natural hormones), minimally invasive endoscopic surgery and stereotactic radiosurgery for patients with pituitary tumors and disorders. Our team of neuroendocrinologists and neurosurgeons, in consultation with radiation oncologists when indicated, work together to construct individualized treatment plans to ensure optimal results. We have experience with minimally invasive surgery in more than 3,500 patients, with success rates higher than anywhere else in Houston and with complication rates of less than 1 percent.
Our surgeons have pioneered many of the minimally invasive techniques used in these procedures, and most patients stay in the hospital for only 24 to 48 hours. Using a multimodality approach, our cure rate and rate of control of these tumors is over 95 percent. Our patients go on to enjoy productive lives and careers, with minimal disruption from treatment.

Glial Tumor Treatment Program
The Glial Tumor Treatment Program focuses on compassionate, intensive and aggressive treatment plans, including minimally invasive surgery. Personalized treatment plans based on DNA and genomic analyses, high-throughput drug screening and proteomics are provided for each patient.

After the tumor is removed, we perform intense studies to come up with a treatment plan developed for your specific tumor. In addition to standard analyses, we will analyze the tumor by examining all of the known genes in each specimen, and then determining which genes are defective or altered in a way that might cause the cancer. This information will be combined with the results of testing each tumor against every chemotherapeutic agent available in the United States. The information is synthesized, and an individual treatment plan is constructed based on state-of-the-art scientific information from each patient’s tumor.

Meningioma and Skull Base Tumor Program
The Meningioma and Skull Base Tumor Program provides aggressive, state-of-the-art minimally invasive surgery coupled with focused stereotactic radiosurgery and genomic analysis. The goal is to spare neurological function by harnessing the interdisciplinary resources of neurosurgery, radiation oncology, otorhinolaryngology (ear, nose and throat specialty), neuropathology and neuroradiology.

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