Although we know popular medical drama TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy don’t reflect real life, how they portray brain tumors can lead to huge misconceptions.
To help set the record straight, Gwinnett Medical Center’s Michael Stechison, MD, PhD, answers a few common questions. Dr. Stechison is not only one of the region’s most respected neurosurgeons, but he has also been an educator and practitioner of neurosurgery since 1989 and is particularly known for his microsurgical treatment of brain tumors.
What are the symptoms of a brain tumor?
People who have benign tumors sometimes exhibit changes in their personality or behavior. Headaches may be common – but it is important to know that most people with headaches don't have a brain tumor. Headaches associated with brain tumors often are worse in the morning and frequently are associated with nausea and vomiting. Other symptoms are a new onset of seizures; weakness in an arm, a leg or a side of the body; visual disturbance; or altered behavior. A rapidly growing malignant (cancerous) tumor is more likely to produce symptoms. A slow-growing benign (non-cancerous) tumor may have no symptoms and may be discovered incidentally on a brain scan done for another reason.
Is a brain tumor always cancerous?
No. There are many types of benign tumors that can be cured with complete surgical removal. Some benign tumors, however, are in "malignant" locations that might not allow for safe, total surgical removal. If all of the tumor can’t be removed, it might be necessary to treat with stereotactic radiosurgery, a form of focused radiation performed by a radiation oncologist and a neurosurgeon.
I've been told that I have a brain tumor. What should I do next?
Some tumors require urgent surgery. Others can be scheduled when it’s convenient for you. Based on the imaging report, your primary care physician can tell you if it is likely a benign tumor, a slow-growing lesion or a more serious tumor. Either way, it is important to make arrangements to see a neurosurgeon, preferably one with specific expertise in treating brain tumors.
The Brain & Spine Institute
At Gwinnett Medical Center, the Brain & Spine Institute’s neurosurgical team believes strongly in utilization of conservative non-surgical measures when appropriate. For more information visit thebrainandspineinstitute.com or call 678-312-2700.