Not Every Brain Tumor is Cancerous
- A mother of one fell and hit her head after having one too many glasses of wine, but when a large bump appeared on her head the next day, she didn't know it meant she had a brain tumor.
- When Jenni Richmond when to the doctor seeking medial attention for the lump, a CT scan revealed she had a low-grade meningioma, which is an often noncancerous brain tumor.
- Less than one third (about 32%) of brain tumors are considered malignant (cancerous).
- The most common type of non-malignant brain tumors are meningiomas, which is what Jenni was diagnosed with. However, there are 120 different types of brain and central nervous system tumors.
Jenni Richmond, then 45, from Surrey, England, was crossing the street to her house after a neighborhood party when she fell and hit her head on the concrete. She attributed the fall to her drinking, went home and got in bed.Read More
She went to the doctor anyway to keep her husband happy, "but as it turned out, I am so glad I did." Once she was at the doctor, a CT scan revealed she had a low-grade meningioma, which is an often noncancerous brain tumor.
"It was a complete shock," Jenni remembered. "I had absolutely no idea. I had no known symptoms whatsoever."
Once she received her diagnosis in 2015, she was put on a "watch and wait" treatment plan, as the location of her tumor made it difficult to operate. However, in mid-2020, the neurology team at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London deemed surgery as her best treatment option.
Due to Covid-19, her surgery was delayed twice. But she recently underwent surgery and it was a success. The only downside is that she isn't able to drive, but she's hopeful she'll get her license back early next year.
For now, she will have scans every year to keep tabs on her brain and make sure the tumor isn't growing back. Her most recent scan, which was last October, came back clear.
"I often wonder whether, when or how I would have known about the tumor if I hadn't had that fall," she said. "I don't know if I did have any real symptoms. There were times when I felt tired, or I had a headache or I couldn't remember something, but it wasn't significant and that sort of thing happens to so many of us."
"I was lucky the tumor was discovered accidentally," she added. "Maybe if it hadn't been discovered until I had symptoms then it could have been a different story for me."
What is a Meningioma?
A meningioma is a growth that's often noncancerous that takes root in the meninges, a membrane protecting the brain and spinal cord.
Dr. Suriya Jeyapalan, director of medical neuro-oncology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, previously told SurvivorNet: "Essentially the brain and the spinal cord float in this sac called the meninges."
Related: Jodi Smith finished her ovarian cancer treatment, only to learn that her husband had a brain tumor.
"Your brain is kind of a soft tissue. It's almost like a sponge," Dr. Jeyapalan said. "And every time you move your head, you'd be bruising your brain because you're hitting up against the hard bone, the skull. So one of the things that evolution has done is that your brain is sort of floating in a sort of natural shock absorber, as you were, so this fluid" contained in the meninges.
There's still no indication as to what may cause meningiomas, but the growths are more prevalent in women, like Jenni, than men and in individuals who have a family history with the tumor.
Radiation to the head may also increase the risk of developing a meningioma brain tumor. In the United States, Black people have higher rates of meningioma than white people.
What Are the Symptoms of a Meningioma?
It can be difficult to identify the symptoms of a meningioma, like Jenni. She repeatedly said she didn't have any symptoms, and if she did, she didn't notice. In some cases, people will start to favor or lean to one side more than the other. And because of the rate at which meningiomas grow, these changes can be subtle over time.
According to the Mayo Clinic, common meningioma brain tumor symptoms include:
- Changes in vision, such as seeing double or blurriness
- Headaches, especially those that are worse in the morning
- Hearing loss or ringing in the ears
- Memory loss
- Loss of smell
- Weakness in your arms or legs
- Language difficulty
Not Every Brain Tumor is Cancerous
Naturally, a lot of people think "cancer" when they hear the word tumor. However, most brain tumors aren't actually cancerous. Less than one third (about 32%) of brain tumors are considered malignant (cancerous), according to the American Brain Tumor Association.
If a tumor is made up of normal-looking cells, then the tumor is benign. But these tumors may still require treatment, such as surgery. Because of this, they are often referred to as "non-malignant," since the word benign can be misleading.
The most common type of non-malignant brain tumors are meningiomas, which is what Jenni was diagnosed with. However, there are 120 different types of brain and central nervous system tumors, according to ABTA.
Oftentimes after an MRI, a biopsy will be performed on a brain tumor to determine its type. Sometimes, the results of imaging tests show that a tumor is likely to be non-malignant, and a biopsy is not necessary.
Contributing: Chris Spargo