Signs & Symptoms of Brain Cancer

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

We've all heard the term ''brain cancer,'' but what are the signs and symptoms that indicate brain cancer? Check out this lesson to learn the tell-tale signs of brain cancer.

What Is Brain Cancer?

Brain cancer occurs when a tumor develops somewhere in the brain. A tumor can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous) and is composed of abnormal cells that continue to multiply instead of dividing and dying like healthy cells. Most symptoms appear very gradually and are often missed by both the patient and the patient's family. Sometimes, though, the symptoms appear rapidly and may mirror the same symptoms as a person having a stroke. Additionally, some people may not experience any symptoms at all. When symptoms do appear, there are five primary symptoms that are most commonly experienced:

  1. Headaches
  2. General feelings of weakness
  3. Clumsiness
  4. Difficulty walking
  5. Seizures

An MRI scan of a brain tumor, shown on the scan in white
brain scan

General Symptoms

Symptoms that are caused by the pressure a tumor places on the brain or spinal cord is called a general symptom. General symptoms can include headaches, seizures, changes in memory or personality, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. Headaches are usually worse early in the morning or after strenuous activity. Seizures may be classified based on the parts of the body affected, duration, and severity of symptoms. Examples are myoclonic seizures, Tonic-Clonic seizures, sensory seizures, and complex partial seizures.

Myoclonic seizures display either single or a few twitches or spasms. Tonic-Clonic seizures are also called Grand Mal seizures and are symbolized by loss of consciousness, total body contractions, loss of control over bodily functions, temporary loss of breathing capability, and 'after effects' of soreness, weakness, or confusion. Sensory seizures involve changes to sight, smell, or hearing, though the person maintains consciousness. Complex partial seizures may result in a loss in consciousness and may include bouts of twitching or spasms.

Specific Symptoms

Specific symptoms occur when a specific region of the brain is not functioning normally as a result of the tumor. These symptoms are (obviously) more specific in nature and can include headaches or feeling pressure in the designated area; loss of balance and fine motor skills; changes in judgment and overall demeanor; changes in or loss of vision, speech, hearing, or memory; changes in sensory perception, such as touch; or even trouble swallowing.

Specific symptoms vary based on the tumor's location in the brain.

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