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Brain cancer is an awful, depressing cancer, Nigel H. Greig of the National Institute of Aging told The New York Times. As abnormal cells grow within the human body, they form a mass, also called a tumor. Tumors can either be benign, noncancerous, or malignant, cancerous. Of the many different types of malignant brain tumors, Glioblastoma multiforme, or GBM, is the most common and most aggressive (Dubey, 2011). Primary brain tumors emerge in the brain and brain metastasis are cancerous cells that have spread to the brain from an origination elsewhere in the body. Research shows that the many aspects of brain cancer are reasons to be feared due to the mortality rate increase.
Brain cancer is of a diverse group of people. Incidences of brain cancer show that populations of Southeast and Eastern Asia have the lowest rates, North American African Americans have in-between rates and the Caucasian population has the highest (Darefsky, 2011). In the United States each year, roughly 170,000 cases of brain metastasis are diagnosed. For every 5,000 people, one will be diagnosed with a brain tumor. Being that GBM is the most common, accounting for 20% of all intracranial tumors and 52% of all brain tumor cases, it is a primary brain malignancy. GBM affects people within the peak ages of 45-70, but has also been reported in every age group (Dubey, 2012).
All cancers can form a metastasis, meaning that have originated from somewhere else in the body and have spread. As with all cancers, the predisposing factors are determined by a person's genetics, environment, habits, diet and other infectious agents. However, the clear-cut cause of brain cancer is undistinguished. Smoking cigarettes is precisely linked to 1/3 of cancer deaths in the United States each year (www.CDC.gov). A person's diet, including, type of food, portions sizes and caloric balance, have gained attention in recent studies; since most brain metastasis occur elsewhere in the body first (www.CDC.gov). Foods that are high in fat are a cancer booster. Also, mutated genes are inherited through our DNA and are predisposed to people affected with certain cancers (www.CDC.gov). Carcinogens in a person's work place environment also have a role in developing brain cancer and are exposed to the skin, nasal passages and lungs (www.CDC.gov). Chemicals such as asbestos, cadmium, uranium and radon are common types of carcinogens. Some studies also show that the use of cell phones or other high radio frequency devices, such as, televisions, are a concern in the development of brain cancer. However, newer studies show no evidence of the link between cell phones and brain cancer (McBride, 2010).
Most signs and symptoms of brain cancer resemble a stroke. The most common are headaches, weakness, seizures, clumsiness, altered mental status, focal weakness and increased intracranial pressure, or ICP. People are urged to see a physician if double vision, persistent vomiting and lethargy occur, reason being that headaches may occur late in the advancement of cancer (www.WebMD.com).
To correctly diagnose a patient with brain cancer, first a Computed Tomography, CT, scan is performed (www.WebMD.com). Magnetic Resonance Imaging, MRI, is becoming more practical because of the sensitivity in distinguishing tumors (www.WebMD.com). A CT scan differs from a traditional x-ray, which, have become about distinct in diagnosing brain cancer, in that, the results are more three dimensional. In formidable cases, a Positron Emission Tomography, PET, scan is performed to identify GBSs (Dubey, 2011). Once CT scans and MRIs are performed, a biopsy is them performed to determine the tumor type. The whole tumor or in part, can be removed during a biopsy. In some cases, a small whole is made through the skull and a needle is guided through to collect part of the mass for observation (www.WebMD.com). Blood analysis, liver function tests and a blood coagulation profile, commonly referred to as routine lab tests, are also performed.
There are many treatments for brain cancer. Treatment begins with a team of doctors, consisting of, neurosurgeons, oncologists and the patient's primary health care provider. Every treatment is individualized, meaning that, treatment is based on a person's age, sex, race, general health and type, location and size of the tumor. The most common types of treatment are chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. Radiation therapies use high energy beams to destroy tumors and affect brain cells along a certain path. Chemotherapy is generally given through IV or by mouth and is given over a period of time. Side effects of chemotherapy are very well known, consisting of vomiting, mouth sores, decrease in appetite and hair loss. Sometimes, as in benign tumors, surgery can be performed to remove the tumor to cure symptoms. Stereotactic radiosurgery is a procedure done by pinpointing the tumor with a CT scan or an MRI, and radiation beams destroy the tumor (www.WebMD.com). Surgery may not always be an option because it is too risky, mainly because the tumor may have overspread into the healthy brain tissue (Vecchione, 2008). Standard radiation and a chemotherapy drug called Temozolmide are common treatments for newly diagnosed GBMs. Patients are given steroids, such as dexamethasone and an anticonvulsant drug to prevent seizures. A shunt may also need to be put in place to drain cerebrospinal fluid if it is excessive. A newer drug called Ipilimumab has appeared to be safe in patients with brain metastasis. A study of the drug showed two of twelve patients showed partial response and three had a stable response to the drug (Dermatology Times, 2012). It is also believed that by killing the stem cells, it improves the destruction of tumors and prevents them from returning (USA Today magazine). New therapies are also being discovered on a regular basis and it is best that patients with brain cancer consult their oncologist or the National Cancer Institute for more information.
The prognosis of brain cancer is extremely poor. According to the American Cancer Society, patients aged forty five and older have a 16% survival rate with a diagnostic form of brain cancer called astrocytoma (Strangman, 2008). Astrocytoma is a tumor of the astrocyte cells, the brain's neuroglia tissue (Vecchione, 2008). The survival rate of patients with GBMs is less than 2%. Others say 25% of patients survive beyond two years and half of the overall patients diagnosed with GBMs live one year (Vecchione, 2008). When treatments are administered, quality of life and short term survival rates are enriched. Survival rate in long term, patients surviving more than five years, is lower, even though aggressive treatments of chemotherapy, whole brain radiation and surgery are given (www.WebMD.com). An in the middle survival rate is about six months with whole brain radiation therapy, however, with corticosteroids alone, the survival rate is roughly one to two months (Kress, 2012).
With such a poor prognosis of brain cancer, oncologists feel it is suitable to discuss hospice care options, advanced directives and living wills with patients and their families (www.WebMD.com). Most patients diagnosed with this grim disease feel anxious, depressed, angry and resentful. Some patients may even feel defeated and helpless. The American Cancer Society urges patients to join support groups around the United States. Information for those groups can be found on their website or obtained from the patient's oncologist (www.WebMD.com).
The American Society of Clinical Oncology, ASCO, says that in the last few years, research in brain tumors has made fast advances. In raising awareness for brain cancer, The International Brain Tumor Awareness, IBTA, organization was formed (Strangman, 2008). IBTA's chair, Denis Strangman, says that specialists from around the world have joined the organization to discuss patients in poorer countries diagnosed with brain tumors and how they can help. Strangman also says that the IBTA receives requests daily from patients in these poorer countries in need of help and more or less begging for it. He believes it is due to lack of basic medications, such as, steroids and seizure drugs (Strangman, 2008). The National Cancer Institute, NCI, has a list of clinical trials on their website and patients are urged to speak with their oncologist for more information, and how they can volunteer for these clinical trials. These clinical trials are sponsored by the NCI and other organizations and generally take place in hospitals, but can take place in other facilities around the world also. The biggest downfall of clinical trials is that they are not proves to work and may not even work at all, leaving the patients feeling as though there is no hope for them (www.WebMD.com).
In conclusion, many physicians and oncologists feel there is a rising epidemic of the deadly disease brain cancer and that more research is warranted. Others feel that there is by no means an epidemic considering the population as a whole and they feel that brain cancer has been stable for the last twenty years. However, cancer research as a whole has been around for centuries. Centuries of just trying to find a cause, let alone a cure.