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Top 7 Brain Tumor Warning Signs You Should Know

August 23, 2023 Posted in: Cancer Care

A brain tumor refers to an abnormal growth of cells within the brain or its surrounding structures. These tumors can be either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous), and they arise from the uncontrolled division and multiplication of cells in the brain. The exact cause of brain tumors is often unknown, but certain risk factors such as genetic predisposition, exposure to radiation, and certain inherited syndromes may increase the likelihood of their development. 

Brain tumors can vary in size, location, and aggressiveness, leading to a wide range of symptoms including headaches, seizures, cognitive difficulties, changes in behavior, and neurological impairments. The diagnosis and treatment of brain tumors involve a comprehensive evaluation, which may include imaging tests, biopsies, and a multidisciplinary approach involving neurosurgeons, oncologists, radiation therapists, and other healthcare professionals. Treatment options for brain tumors include:

  • Surgery
  • radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • targeted drug therapies
  • supportive care

Persistent Headaches

While headaches are a common ailment and usually have benign causes, such as tension or migraines, it is essential to be aware of certain characteristics that may indicate a more serious underlying condition. Headaches associated with brain tumors often exhibit distinct features, including increasing frequency and intensity over time, worsened by physical activity or changes in position, and accompanied by other symptoms like nausea, vomiting, seizures, or neurological deficits.

Changes in Vision

Tumors located in or near the optic nerves, optic chiasm, or visual processing areas of the brain can interfere with the normal functioning of the visual system, leading to various visual disturbances. These changes may include:

  • blurred or double vision
  • loss of peripheral vision
  • decreased visual acuity
  • difficulty with eye movements
  • appearance of flashing lights or visual hallucinations


Brain tumors can disrupt the normal electrical activity in the brain, leading to uncontrolled and abnormal firing of neurons, which manifests as seizures. Seizures associated with brain tumors can vary in type and severity, ranging from focal seizures that affect specific areas of the body or cause sensory disturbances, to generalized seizures that involve loss of consciousness and convulsions.

Cognitive and Behavioral Changes

Tumors in the brain can affect the normal functioning of neural pathways, leading to alterations in cognition, thinking processes, and behavior. These changes may manifest as:

  • memory problems
  • difficulty concentrating or focusing
  • decreased attention span
  • impaired judgment, personality changes
  • mood swings
  • psychiatric symptoms

Balance and Coordination Issues

Tumors located in certain areas of the brain, such as the cerebellum or brainstem, can interfere with the normal functioning of motor control centers, leading to difficulties with balance and coordination. These issues may present as unsteadiness while walking, clumsiness, frequent stumbling or falling, a sense of dizziness or vertigo, and difficulty with fine motor skills.

Persistent Nausea and Vomiting

Persistent nausea and vomiting can potentially be a sign of a brain tumor. Tumors in the brain can exert pressure on different areas, including the brainstem and the regions that control nausea and vomiting. This pressure can disrupt the normal functioning of these areas, leading to persistent feelings of nausea and episodes of vomiting.

Progressive Weakness or Numbness

Tumors in the brain can exert pressure on or invade areas responsible for motor function and sensation, leading to a gradual onset of weakness and numbness in specific body parts. This weakness and numbness may be localized or affect multiple regions, depending on the tumor's location and size. 

Explore the different types of brain conditions and treatments

When to see a Doctor 

If you suspect you may have a brain tumor, here are some steps to consider:

  • Consult a healthcare professional. Schedule an appointment with your primary care physician or a neurologist to discuss your symptoms, concerns, and medical history. They will conduct a thorough evaluation and guide you through the diagnostic process.
  • Medical evaluation: Your healthcare professional may order various tests to assess your condition, such as imaging studies like MRI or CT scans to visualize the brain, and possibly an electroencephalogram (EEG) to evaluate brain activity. These tests can provide valuable insights into the presence of a brain tumor.
  • Specialist referral: Depending on the initial evaluation, your doctor may refer you to a neurologist, neurosurgeon, or an oncologist who specializes in brain tumors for further evaluation and treatment recommendations.
  • Further diagnostic tests: Additional tests may be necessary to confirm the presence of a brain tumor and determine its type and characteristics. These may include a biopsy, which involves taking a tissue sample from the tumor for analysis, or a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) to examine cerebrospinal fluid for tumor markers.
  • Treatment discussion: If a brain tumor is diagnosed, your healthcare team will discuss the available treatment options based on factors such as tumor type, size, location, and your overall health. Treatment options may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted drug therapies, or a combination of these.
  • Seek second opinion: It is often helpful to seek a second opinion from another qualified specialist to confirm the diagnosis and discuss treatment options. This can provide you with more information and ensure that you are making informed decisions about your care.
  • Support and care: Living with a brain tumor can be challenging, so it's important to seek support from loved ones, join support groups, or consider counseling or therapy to cope with the emotional and physical aspects of the diagnosis and treatment.

Remember, only medical professionals can provide an accurate diagnosis and guide you through the appropriate steps for your specific situation.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the first signs of a brain tumor?

The first signs of a brain tumor can vary depending on the size, location, and type of tumor. Some common early signs and symptoms to be aware of include:

  • Persistent headaches
  • Seizures
  • Cognitive and behavioral changes
  • Vision changes
  • Balance and coordination problems
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weakness or numbness

How long before brain tumor symptoms show?

The time it takes for brain tumor symptoms to appear can vary greatly depending on several factors, including the type of tumor, its location, size, and rate of growth. In some cases, brain tumors may develop slowly over a long period, causing subtle symptoms that may go unnoticed for months or even years. On the other hand, certain aggressive or fast-growing tumors can lead to the rapid onset of symptoms in a shorter time frame.

It's important to note that the symptoms of a brain tumor can be nonspecific and resemble those of other conditions. Some people may experience early warning signs, while others may not have noticeable symptoms until the tumor reaches a certain size or begins to affect specific areas of the brain.

Is smelling smoke a sign of brain tumor?

Smelling smoke, or experiencing phantom smells that are not actually present, can be a symptom associated with certain types of brain tumors. These olfactory hallucinations, known as phantosmia, can occur when a tumor affects the brain regions responsible for processing smell signals. However, it's important to note that phantosmia can also have other causes, such as nasal or sinus conditions, certain medications, or neurological disorders unrelated to brain tumors.

Can a brain tumor develop in 6 months?

Yes, a brain tumor can develop within a span of 6 months, although the timing can vary depending on various factors. The growth rate of brain tumors can differ widely between individuals and types of tumors. Some tumors, such as slow-growing benign tumors, may take years or even decades to develop noticeable symptoms. On the other hand, certain aggressive or rapidly growing tumors can progress more rapidly, resulting in symptoms appearing within a relatively short period.

The size, location, and rate of growth of the tumor can influence when symptoms become apparent. If you have concerns about a brain tumor or are experiencing symptoms, it's crucial to seek medical evaluation and guidance from a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and appropriate management.

Can you feel a brain tumor?

Brain tumors often do not cause any physical manifestations that can be felt through touch. However, they can cause symptoms related to the disruption of brain function, such as headaches, seizures, changes in vision, cognitive impairments, or motor deficits. These symptoms are typically what prompt individuals to seek medical attention and undergo diagnostic testing, such as imaging scans, to evaluate the presence of a brain tumor.

How common are brain tumors?

Brain tumors are relatively rare compared to other types of cancer. According to available statistics, the incidence of brain tumors varies depending on the specific type and age group being considered. Here are some general points:

  • Overall incidence: Brain tumors account for about 1-2% of all diagnosed cancers.
  • Age group: Brain tumors can occur at any age, but certain types are more common in specific age groups. For example, pediatric brain tumors are the most common solid tumors in children, while gliomas (a type of brain tumor) are more frequently diagnosed in adults.
  • Benign vs. malignant: The majority of brain tumors are non-cancerous (benign), whereas approximately one-third are cancerous (malignant).
  • Gliomas: Gliomas, which include glioblastomas, astrocytomas, and oligodendrogliomas, are among the most common types of malignant brain tumors in adults.

Neuro-Oncology At CHI Memorial 

At Neuro-Oncology, we offer a wide range of services including:

  • Advanced imaging technologies: MRI and CT scans to accurately diagnose and monitor tumors. 
  • Personalized treatment plans: these are tailored to each patient's specific needs, which may include surgical interventions, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapies, and immunotherapy.
  • Patient-centered approach: we focus on addressing not only the physical aspects but also the emotional and psychosocial needs of patients and their families
  • Supportive care services: this includes pain management, symptom control, and palliative care, are available to optimize patients' quality of life throughout their treatment journey.
  • Clinical trials and research initiatives: these are an integral part of Neuro-Oncology at CHI Memorial, allowing patients to potentially access cutting-edge treatments and contribute to advancements in brain tumor care.

With our expertise, state-of-the-art facilities, and a compassionate approach, Neuro-Oncology at CHI Memorial strives to deliver the highest standard of care and support to patients dealing with brain and spinal cord tumors.

Learn more about our expert brain tumor care


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