Symptoms of a Brain Tumor
- Joey Moran, 9, is currently battling a cancerous brain tumor after experiencing flu-like symptoms and an absence seizure.
- Symptoms of brain tumors are often caused by increased pressure in the skull. Symptoms may include headache, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, balance problems, personality or behavior changes, seizures, drowsiness or even comas. It is important to note, however, that these symptoms are not exclusive to brain tumors.
- Here at SurvivorNet, we’re always encouraging people to advocate for themselves when it comes to cancer and, more generally, health care. But when it comes to a child, the parent must become the advocate and make sure any possible signs of cancer are fully and expeditiously addressed.
Emma Moran, a mother from Ireland, thought something was off with her 9-year-old son, Joey, when he started feeling sick.Read More
“We thought it was just about going back to school. He wouldn’t go down to school, he was afraid.”
Then, just three days before his diagnosis, he was complaining of a headache and vomiting.
“I thought it was just the flu or a tummy bug he had or something that was going around,” she said.
Unfortunately, Joey’s flu-like symptoms had nothing to do with the germs at school at all. But it wasn’t until he experienced an absence seizure – a brief, sudden lapses of consciousness – that Emma rushed him to the hospital in an ambulance.
“It was like he had a stroke in front of us,” she said. “His whole face drooped, he couldn’t speak and his arm wouldn’t work.”
It was then that doctors discovered he had brain swelling and thought he had an abscess that required draining.
“They took him for surgery right away and about four hours later they came back and said when they went in it wasn’t an abscess at all but some form of a tumor,” Emma said.
After removing a small tumor sample, little Joey was found to have anaplastic pleomorphic xanthoastrocytoma – a very rare type of malignant (cancerous) tumor found in the primary central nervous system (meaning they begin in the brain or spinal cord) – on his brain.
“They went in and removed 98% of it and thought they had removed everything but when the swelling went down they saw that a small bit was left,” she explained.
Then doctors tried to use radiation on the remainder of the tumor, but Joey got a brain infection that necessitated the placement of a shunt –a hollow tube surgically placed in the brain.
“Since June 2021, he’s been going around with no bone on his head,” she said. “They hoped to put a plate back in after he got an all-clear following his chemotherapy.”
But, sadly, Joey’s cancer journey did not end after doctors told his family the cancer was gone in October 2021. By January 2022, Joey’s tumor had returned and grown to about half of its original size.
“They hoped Joey had more time before a regrowth because it’s something that will keep coming back,” Emma said. “Treatment options will get more limited and so we’re just hoping there’s more time between regrowth.”
Even still, Joey’s attitude – like that of many childhood cancer warriors – is overwhelming positive.
“He said he knew it was back because he could feel his brain being pushed again, that’s how he described it,” Emma said. “He didn’t seem that bothered with it because he said he’ll beat it again. We explained that each time it comes back, we’ll be less likely to be able to have surgery, radiation and chemo.
“He said, ‘I know that but I’ll keep fighting it’.”
Understanding Brain Tumors
According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), brain tumors account for 85 to 90 percent of all primary central nervous system (CNS) tumors. The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord and acts as the main “processing center” for the nervous system. Normal function of the brain and spinal cord can become difficult if there’s a tumor present that puts pressure on or spreads into nearby normal tissue.
There are many different types of brain and spinal cord tumors. Some are more likely to spread into nearby parts of the brain or spinal cord than others. Slow-growing tumors may be considered benign, but even these tumors can cause serious problems.
General Symptoms of Brain Tumors
Symptoms of brain tumors, as a whole, are often caused by increased pressure in the skull. This pressure can be caused by tumor growth, swelling in the brain or blockage of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), according to the American Cancer Society.
General symptoms may include the following:
- Blurred vision
- Balance problems
- Personality or behavior changes
- Drowsiness or even coma
But it is important to note that these symptoms are not exclusive to brain tumors. Still, you should always consult with your doctor if any health problems arise.
Advocating for Your Child
Here at SurvivorNet, we always encourage people to advocate for themselves when it comes to cancer and, more generally, health care. When it comes to a child, the parent must become the advocate – just as we saw in the case above.
And even if you’re called ‘pushy’ or people dismiss the concerns you have for your child, it’s important to remember that you never know when speaking up about a seemingly unproblematic issue can lead to a very important diagnosis – cancer or otherwise.
“Every appointment you leave as a patient, there should be a plan for what the doc is going to do for you, and if that doesn’t work, what the next plan is,” Dr. Zuri Murell, director of the Cedars-Sinai Colorectal Cancer Center, told SurvivorNet in a previous interview. “And I think that that’s totally fair. And me as a health professional – that’s what I do for all of my patients.”
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, April Knowles also talked about self advocacy and explained how she became a breast cancer advocate after her doctor dismissed the lump in her breast as a side effect of her menstrual period.
Unfortunately, that dismissal was a mistake. Knowles was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at age 39. She said the experience taught her the importance of listening to her body and speaking up when something doesn’t feel right.
“I wanted my doctor to like me,” she said. “I think women, especially young women, are really used to being dismissed by their doctors.”
Figuring out whether or not you have – or your child has– cancer based on possible symptoms is critical because early detection may help with treatment and outcomes. Seeking multiple opinions is one way make sure you are or your child is getting the proper care and attention.
You should also try to remember that not all doctors are in agreement. Recommendations for further testing or treatment options can vary, and sometimes it’s essential to talk with multiple medical professionals.