How does a brain tumour affect someone?
By Safiya Zaloum
Your brain is an incredible organ that controls everything that your body does. How a brain tumour affects someone depends on where it is located and the size of the tumour. Different parts of your brain are responsible for different functions which can all be affected if a tumor is located in that area.
What does the brain do?
The brain does so many things! It controls all of the functions of your body. There are 3 main parts of the brain – the cerebrum, cerebellum and the brain stem, which all have different and important functions.
The cerebrum is the biggest part of your brain and is responsible for your thinking and voluntary movements – the moving that you decide to do like picking up a pen. The right side of the cerebrum controls the left side of your body and the left side of the cerebrum controls the right side of your body. Your cerebrum is what remembers things, solves problems and is responsible for learning and emotion. It is also in charge of your senses. The cerebrum is split into 4 lobes, which each have different functions:
- The frontal lobe is what controls your speech, thoughts, learning and emotions. Your frontal lobe is what solves problems and makes you aware of yourself. There is a special part of the frontal lobe called the motor cortex which controls your body’s movement.
- The parietal lobe is what controls your sense of touch, pain and temperature. This part of the brain is in charge of reading and knowing right from left.
- The occipital lobe is all about your sense of sight – it interprets what you see!
- The temporal lobe understands language and is where most of your memory is. It is also in charge of your hearing.
The cerebellum sits at the back of the brain behind the cerebrum and brain stem. Even though it is small, it has a very important role. The cerebellum is in charge of balance, movement and coordination. The brain stem is found underneath the cerebrum and connects the brain to the spinal cord. All of the functions that are done automatically for your body to stay alive are controlled by the brain stem. This includes breathing, digestion, body temperature and blood flow around your body. Another important job of the brain stem is the control of your involuntary muscles – the ones that work automatically. For example your heart beats without you thinking about it. It also passes on the messages from the body that need to go to other parts of the brain.
What is a brain tumour?
A brain tumour is a lump in the brain. This lump is made up of cells that grow in an uncontrolled way. A brain tumour starts when something inside a cell goes wrong, and that cell goes on to multiply, forming a tumour. There are over 130 different types of brain tumour! They are usually named for where they originated. All tumours can be split into 2 broad categories: benign (non-cancerous), and cancerous. Benign tumours usually grow quite slowly and are often cured with treatment. Cancerous tumours grow much faster and can spread to other parts of the body.
The symptoms, things that occur due to the brain tumour, can vary massively depending on where the brain tumour is located. Common symptoms that cause people to go see a doctor are headaches, seizures, feeling or being sick very often, memory problems, changes in personality, weakness on one side of the body and eyesight or speech problems. Some people who have brain tumours do not have any symptoms at all. How fast symptoms develop depend on how fast the brain tumour is growing. Brain tumours cause symptoms for one of two reasons, or both!
The first reason is that tumours can take up space in the skull. The skull has a fixed area as it is a solid bone, so something extra growing inside of it increases the pressure, which can cause a variety of symptoms. Someone can get headaches that usually come with a feeling of being sick or are so bad that you wake up at night. Another consequence of increased pressure can be seizures which cause jerking or twitching of part of, or the whole of your body. Feeling sick when moving suddenly alongside other symptoms can be a sign of a brain tumour, as can problems with eyesight that are getting worse. Sometimes, if the pressure inside the skull gets so high, the person can lose consciousness.
The other reason that brain tumours can cause changes are because of the location that they grow in. Remember that the cerebrum is split into 4 lobes? Depending on which lobe a tumour is in, different problems can arise. Someone with a frontal lobe tumour might have difficulty walking, problems with their sight and speech, weakness on one side of the body or even start behaving in a way that they wouldn’t normally. Personality changes often occur when a tumour is located in the frontal lobe. Temporal lobe tumours can cause short term memory loss or difficulty with hearing and speaking. A parietal lobe tumour might cause problems with speaking and understanding or reading and writing. Occipital lobe tumours usually cause changes in vision or difficulty identifying the colour and size of objects.
The cerebrum is not the only location a brain tumour can occur. A cerebellum tumour can cause problems with coordination and balance, dizziness and sickness. Brainstem tumours can cause problems with speaking and swallowing, double vision and problems with walking.
There are so many different symptoms of a brain tumour depending on its size and location. This can actually be very useful, as doctors know which symptoms correlate to different areas of the brain, helping them to pinpoint the location of the tumour and what part of the brain it is affecting.