Signs and symptoms of a brain tumour

The symptoms of a brain tumour can develop gradually or quickly depending on the type of tumour. Headaches are a common symptom but usually not the only symptom. Changes in personality and having a seizure (fit) are other general symptoms.

A brain tumour can also increase the pressure in the skull. The main symptoms of this are headaches, sickness, vomiting and confusion.

Other symptoms depend on the position of the tumour and how it prevents that part of the brain from working properly. Tumours in the cerebrum can cause weakness on one side of the body, problems with speech, vision and memory. Tumours in the cerebellum and in the brain stem can lead to problems with coordination and unsteadiness.

A tumour in the pituitary gland can cause different hormone related symptoms, such as infertility but can also cause tunnel vision. A tumour that affects the hearing nerve causes hearing loss.

These symptoms can be caused by other conditions. Headaches, especially, are a common symptom often of stress. But if you have any of these symptoms always see your doctor.

Symptoms caused by brain tumours

Symptoms can develop gradually or over a very short time depending on the type of brain tumour. Malignant and benign tumours can cause similar symptoms.

Some symptoms depend on where the tumour is in the brain. As the tumour grows, it affects surrounding brain tissue and prevents that part of the brain from working normally. The tumour can sometimes cause swelling that increases the pressure inside the brain and this can cause other symptoms.

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Headaches

Headaches are a common symptom of a brain tumour but it’s unusual for them to be the only symptom. They are usually dull and constant and occasionally throbbing.

Most people get headaches from time to time, usually because of being stressed or tense. But if you keep getting headaches, or there are changes to the type of headaches you usually get, see your GP.

It’s very important you see a doctor if your headaches wake you up at night, are worse in the morning and especially if you feel sick.


Brain tumour symptoms due to increased pressure

A tumour can increase the pressure in the skull. This is called raised intracranial pressure. It can be caused by swelling around the tumour, by the tumour itself, or a blockage of the flow of cerebrospinal fluid.

The most common symptoms of this increase in pressure are headaches, feeling sick and vomiting. The headache may be worse in the morning or get worse when you cough, sneeze or bend down. Increased pressure can also cause symptoms such as changes to your sight, being confused or problems with your balance.


Seizures

Seizures are another common symptom of brain tumours. They can be a frightening experience for you and people close to you. If you have a seizure, your doctor will usually prescribe drugs to prevent them, called anticonvulsants.

Seizures are more common with tumours that start in the cerebrum. There are different types of seizures. Some can cause twitching as your muscles relax and tighten. You may become unresponsive or unconscious for a time. Sometimes people may bite their tongue or cheek. With other types of seizures, you may become blank and unresponsive for seconds or minutes, or notice odd smells and sensations.

After a seizure, you may feel very tired and some people feel a bit confused for a short while. Try to rest and give yourself time to recover.


Changes in personality and behaviour

There may be some changes in your personality and behaviour. Or you may have problems with thinking, reasoning or memory. Sometimes family members or close friends may notice this first.

These changes can be upsetting for you and the people around you. If you or someone close to you are finding this difficult to cope with, your specialist can refer you to a psychologist for assessment and support.


Symptoms and tumour position

Some symptoms depend on the position of the tumour. They happen because the tumour prevents that part of the brain from working normally. We’ve listed below the types of symptoms you may have, relating to where the tumour is:

  • In the frontal lobe – changes in personality or behaviour, uncoordinated walking or weakness on one side of the body.
  • In the parietal lobe – difficulty with speech and understanding, problems writing, reading and doing simple calculations, difficulty finding your way around, numbness or weakness on one side of the body.
  • In the temporal lobe – difficulties with speech or problems with memory.
  • In the occipital lobe – problems with sight or losing part of your vision.
  • In the cerebellum – lack of coordination, double vision or blurred vision, unsteadiness or problems with speech.
  • In the brain stem – dizziness, unsteady and uncoordinated walking, facial weakness, double vision or difficulty with speech and swallowing.
  • In the pituitary gland – different hormone related symptoms including irregular periods, infertility, weight gain, high blood pressure, diabetes, mood swings and enlarged hands and feet. A tumour in the pituitary can also cause tunnel vision because of pressure on the nerves to the eyes.
  • In the nerve that controls hearing and balance (acoustic nerve) – acoustic neuroma can cause hearing loss in one ear or in both ears. People who have neurofibromatosis are more likely to have hearing loss in both ears.

Back to Understanding brain tumours

What is a brain tumour?

Brain tumours can be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer). Cancer is a disease caused by the abnormal division of cells. This uncontrolled division of cells then forms a tumour.

The brain and spinal cord

The brain controls the body’s functions. It is made of different parts that fulfill very specific tasks.

Primary brain tumours

Primary brain tumours may be benign or malignant. There are several types of brain tumours.

How brain tumours are treated

Treatments for brain tumours include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and also drugs to treat symptoms. You may have a combination of treatments.

Secondary brain tumours

Secondary brain tumours happen when cancer cells spread to the brain from a cancer in another part of the body.