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Nervous System Tumors: Gliomas, Meningiomas, and More

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  • 0:07 Growths on the Body
  • 0:41 Nervous System Tumors
  • 1:41 Why Do They Occur
  • 3:16 What Do They Do?
  • 4:51 Diagnosis & Treatment
  • 6:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
This lesson will go over some of the most common nervous system tumors and how it is they may cause harm to the person, how they may be diagnosed, and treated. Find out as we explore meningiomas, gliomas, and schwannomas.

Growths on the Body

Every one of us has at the very minimum heard of the term 'cancer.' A cancer is a malignant tumor or growth of some sort. Some of them, like certain skin cancers, can be very easily removed and even cured through this removal. Other cancers are far worse and may not be surgically correctable. Furthermore, some of these terrible cancers occur in the most vital places of your body: your brain and spinal cord. The different types of tumors that can occur in the central or peripheral nervous system, the way by which they may hurt you, and how they may be treated, will be discussed in this lesson.

The Different Kinds of Nervous System Tumors

There are many different types of cancers that can affect the central nervous system and surrounding tissues. These include:

  • Meningioma, a tumor that arises from the protective layers surrounding the brain and spinal cord, called the meninges. This is the most common benign tumor arising inside of the skull.
  • Glioma, a collection of different tumor types arising from the cells that make up the supportive structure of the central nervous system. A glioma is the most common type of tumor arising in the brain and the majority of malignant brain tumors are gliomas as well. The most common form of glioma, by the way, is known as an astrocytoma.

In addition to tumors affecting the central nervous system, there are tumors that affect the nervous system outside of the brain and spinal cord, called the peripheral nervous system, such as a schwannoma, which is the most common benign peripheral nerve sheath tumor. It affects the insulating layer, called myelin, that surrounds a nerve.

What Causes Nervous System Tumors to Occur?

The reasons as to why any tumors arise, not just nervous system tumors, are very complex. All sorts of things can cause one to occur. Genes certainly play a role. Environmental factors such as radiation may cause a tumor to develop. Infectious causes, such as viruses, may do so as well.

Regardless of the variety of causes, a tumor essentially occurs when a cell divides uncontrollably, and in the case of malignant tumors, spreads around the body. In a healthy cell, genetic changes may occur that trigger it to multiply like crazy. Normally, if a cell is to divide, there are certain checks and balances within the replication process that stop a cell from propagating genetic defects that may cause a tumor to start growing.

With environmental factors, such as radiation and the age-related slowing down of these checks and balances, cells may inadvertently be allowed to divide more than usual, leading to the growth of a tumor. If further changes occur that allow the tumor cells to peel away from the big growth, then the tumor cells will spread around the body, resulting in cancer.

When a tumor, especially a malignant one, occurs, the checks and balances that should have prevented this from happening can be likened to a bunch of old or handicapped judges sitting on a bench trying the case of a murderer. They're either so old that they don't care about checking the facts of the case and just wave it off, not listening or looking properly at any defects in the defense's claims, or they're handicapped and cannot do anything about the problem to begin with. The end result is the murderer goes free.

What Will Nervous System Tumors Do to the Body?

Some nervous system tumors won't cause much harm, like a newly freed murderer might, if they don't grow too big or spread around. You'd think that metastatic tumors, the ones that have spread around the body, are the worst ones since they're hardest to treat. And you'd be partially right. However, even benign tumors, such as a meningioma, may cause serious issues.

As I said, a meningioma is likely to be benign and grow in one spot. As it grows it will begin to compress the structures surrounding it. Imagine that a meningioma is in a person's skull. At first it is so tiny that it will easily fit within the skull. Eventually, it may grow to be so big that it will physically compress the brain due to its size, leading to the development of seizures. If this occurs in the spine, it may lead to the paralysis of arms or legs.

It's almost like as if you were put into a crowded room full of people and those people all represent the brain cells. If all of a sudden a little balloon was put into the room and floated to the top of the ceiling, no one would care. If that balloon was to be inflated more and more, it would eventually get so big that it will cause people to get squished and have difficulty breathing. That's what something benign, like a meningioma, would do to your nerve cells as well. It would squish them, cause them harm, and therefore that will lead to malfunctions resulting in a seizure. Therefore, a benign tumor can actually cause as much harm as a malignant one in some cases.

How Are Nervous System Tumors Diagnosed and Treated?

Meningiomas or not, tumors of all sorts can be diagnosed and treated through a wide variety of means. For example, we may perform a procedure called an MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging. This procedure will let us peer inside the brain to see if any obvious growths that shouldn't be there have all of a sudden appeared.

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