Know the Signs of Brain Tumors
- Steve Biggin, 51, thought his frequent seizures were from drinking too much coffee at work. However, MRI scans revealed he was dealing with a brain tumor.
- The Mayo Clinic says, “A brain tumor is a growth of cells in the brain or near it.” BIt can cause seizures, headaches, nausea, or vision or speech problems.
- Brain cancer treatment has come a long way over the past few decades, but there is still a lot more work to be done. Optune is an FDA-approved treatment where patients wear a cap on their head that sends electric currents disrupting cancer cells.
- “The more physically fit you are going through your cancer treatment, the less side effects you’ll have and the faster you’ll get back to your normal quality of life,” Dr. Sairah Ahmed said.
Steve Biggin was working as a sales assistant at a supermarket in September 2021. Working in a bustling supermarket would be reason enough to need a few cups of coffee to keep you going.Read More
He went to see his doctor to get answers. MRI and CT scans helped reveal what was causing his seizures and headaches.
“The doctor came over and threw the curtains around. He said he had some bad news for me, and I have a tumor,” Biggin recalled.
After receiving his diagnosis, Biggin followed up by asking if was cancerous.
“The doctor said it was,” Biggin added.
“It was a huge shock to the system, but I’m a very optimistic person; I don’t know if I took it on board fully,” Biggin said describing his reaction to the brain tumor.
It’s completely normal to feel a wide range of emotions after an unexpected diagnosis. Biggin was shocked but he soon transformed those feelings into determination.
After sharing the news with his family, he said they grew emotional.
“They had tears in their eyes. I was feeling positive when I saw them, though. I was determined to beat it,” he said.
Biggin’s treatment began shortly thereafter. He had the tumor surgically removed on Jan. 17, 2022. After surgery, he began radiation for six weeks, five times a week.
After radiation therapy, he took an oral chemotherapy drug for the next 12 months.
“I just got into a routine with it,” Biggin explained.
To help him cope during treatment he started focusing on his health.
“Cycling has helped me through the hardest of times and I think it helped me recover from the operation, emotionally and physically,” Biggin said.
He completed his chemotherapy in late March 2023, which improved his prognosis.
“It was mixed emotions, I suppose. I was worried it was going to come back, but I was overjoyed because they got rid of 99.9% of the tumor,” Biggin explained.
Understanding Brain Tumors
The American Society of Clinical Oncology estimates “24,810 adults” in the U.S. will be diagnosed with a tumor of the spinal cord or brain this year.
The Mayo Clinic says, “A brain tumor is a growth of cells in the brain or near it.”
Brain tumors can be either malignant (cancerous) or benign (noncancerous). They can be classified as a primary tumor, which means it originates in the brain, or metastatic.
Metastatic brain tumors are cancerous Johns Hopkins Medicine explains. These kinds of tumors form elsewhere in the body and then spread to the brain.
Brain tumors are graded by doctors based on how fast the tumor is growing. Grade 1 means the tumor is growing slowly, while grade 4 is for fast-growing tumors.
“There are over 120 brain tumor types, based on the brain tissues they affect,” Johns Hopkins Medicine said.
Brain tumors may produce different symptoms depending on their size and location. Mayo Clinic says some of the symptoms may include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Vision and hearing problems
- Speech problems
- Memory problems
Coping With a Diagnosis
Treatment options for brain tumors include:
- Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells.
- Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells.
- Surgery is done to remove the tumor cells although the tumor “can’t always be removed completely,” Mayo Clinic says.
Brain cancer treatment has come a long way over the past few decades, but there is still a lot more work to be done. However, there is one exciting development in the field that could be a game-changer for those battling brain cancer or dealing with brain tumors.
For glioblastoma, a type of brain cancer, there is an option for patients that may extend survival time — Optune. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved this treatment in October 2015; it is available to adults 22 years of age or older.
This tumor-treating therapy comes in the form of a cap that attaches to a patient’s head, where electric currents run through adhesive pads. These currents disrupt the division of cancer cells, which can delay the disease from progressing extending the survival time for some patients.
“I just want to emphasize to patients that when I first started doing this in 1999, there were maybe less than 5 percent of patients with this disease that were alive two years,” Dr. Suriya Jeyapalan, a neuro-oncologist at Tufts Medical Center, tells SurvivorNet during a previous interview.
WATCH: The Role of Diet and Exercise in Cancer Risk.
How Does Exercising Help During Cancer Treatment?
“I think my fitness played a massive part in the recovery and, seven weeks after the operation, I did 35 miles on the bike on the road with my friend. I’m strong-willed anyway, but cycling made me even stronger,” Biggin said.
Exercising has several benefits for cancer warriors.
Dr. Sairah Ahmed is an associate professor in the Department of Lymphoma/Myeloma, Division of Cancer Medicine, at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.
She explains that keeping as fit as possible can help cancer warriors as they prepare for treatment.
“The more physically fit you are going through your cancer treatment, the less side effects you’ll have and the faster you’ll get back to your normal quality of life,” she says.
Dr. Ahmed also emphasizes the importance of emotional strength — both for patients and their loved ones.
“Stress control is often something that is not talked about and is not given much weight, but there is a lot of stress, both in terms of the patient who’s going through cancer, as well as the family who has to support that patient,” she says.
She recommends preparing for stress — and seeking professional support if needed — as a key piece of preparing for cancer treatment.
With the brunt of his brain tumor behind him, Biggin’s cancer journey reoriented his outlook on life.
“Having cancer has brought a more meaningful touch to my life, for sure,” he said.
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