May is Brain Tumour Awareness Month
As you read through the newspaper this morning, you were probably surprised and saddened to hear that Gord Downie, the lead singer and lyricist of the iconic Canadian rock band the Tragically Hip, has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Unfortunately, Gord is not alone. Every day, 27 Canadians are diagnosed with a brain tumour.
A brain tumour is a mass of abnormal cells within or around the structure of the brain. A brain tumour can be benign or malignant, and can be primary (originate from cells within the brain) or secondary (originate from cells from somewhere else in the body). There are many symptoms that may indicate a brain tumour, including headaches, seizures, visual changes, personality changes, dizziness and nausea – to name a few.
What you may find surprising is that there are over 120 different types of brain tumours, which not only makes effective treatment very complicated, but it can also make understanding brain tumours difficult.
In recognition of Brain Tumour Awareness Month, we’ve listed below some myths and truths about brain tumours.
Myth: To receive a non-malignant brain tumour diagnosis provides relief to the person diagnosed and their family.
Truth: The distinction between non-malignant and malignant brain tumours can be challenging. Some non-malignant tumours can be as serious as those classified as malignant if they are in an inaccessible location, such as the brain stem. Any brain tumour is life-changing regardless of grade or stage.
Myth: All brain tumour patients have the same signs and symptoms.
Truth: Every person diagnosed with a brain tumour will have different symptoms and their own journey to a diagnosis. While some people do not develop symptoms that would indicate a tumour, others may have symptoms that worsen over time eventually leading to a diagnosis. Other still may feel perfectly fine but experience a sudden onset of symptoms, such as a seizure which leads to a quick and unexpected tumour diagnosis.
Myth: Someone diagnosed with a non-malignant brain tumour does not require chemotherapy.
Truth: Although it is seldom required, someone with a non-malignant brain tumour may require chemotherapy. Treatment protocols are based on the person’s age and overall condition, and the location and size of the tumour.
Myth: Once a patient finishes their treatment plan life goes back to ‘normal’.
Truth: For some patients, there comes a day when active treatment ends. That day can bring with it numerous mixed feelings, relief, happiness, anxiety but also uncertainty. The end of treatment does not mean the end of the experience of having a brain tumour and the person may need to adapt to a “new normal” depending on long-term effects the person may have from treatment.
Myth: Brain tumours are a rare form of cancer.
Truth: Brain tumours are the leading cause of solid cancer death in children under the age of 20, now surpassing acute lymphoblastic leukemia. They are the third leading cause of solid cancer death in young adults ages 20-39.
Myth: Treatment for a brain tumour is standard and accessible to anyone affected.
Truth: The treatment of a brain tumour can vary widely depending on the type (there are 120 different ones) and location of a brain tumour, the age of a patient and many other individual elements. While treatment should be defined by an individual's medical needs, it should never be determined by cost or geographic location. Equal access to treatments and drugs and the associated financial burden is an important issue for brain tumour patients and their families in Canada.