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Brain Tumor Locations and Symptoms

In general, brain tumor symptoms may include:
• Recurring, persistent, deep, dull headaches.
• Vomiting.
• Dizziness.
• Seizures.
• Difficulty walking or speaking.
• Weakness or paralysis in a part of the body.
• Changes in sensory perceptions, such as vision, hearing, touch, taste and smell.
• Changes in personality and/or thought processes.
• Abnormal pulse and breathing rates.

But specific symptoms vary, depending on which structures and tissues are affected. Brain injury and symptoms can occur as tumors press against important structures, such as nerves, blood vessels and glands, or as they invade and destroy healthy tissue.

Because some brain tumors grow slowly or may be located at a distance from critical structures, they may not cause symptoms or be detected until they have become fairly large. Other types of tumors grow rapidly or are positioned close to vital areas of the brain, causing symptoms to occur quickly. As a tumor grows, the brain may swell and fluid often develops. As this mass continues to expand within the limited space of the cranium (skull), intracranial pressure increases, affecting more parts of the brain and causing a wide range of symptoms and life-threatening conditions.
Cranial (skull) base tumors and those in the pituitary region may be less likely to cause symptoms related to intracranial pressure. In this region, symptoms can be specific to a nerve being compressed – such as the nerves for vision, facial sensation or hearing – or the symptoms may be widespread throughout the body if a tumor is causing hormonal disorders.

Common symptoms of a tumor on the spinal cord or the bones of the spine often include: back or neck pain; weakness, pain, tingling or numbness in a part of the body such as hands, feet, arms or legs; loss of sexual function; and loss of bladder and/or bowel control. Tumor-related back pain tends to be unrelated to physical activity, gets worse over time, and may be more painful when lying down.

A tumor’s location will largely determine the symptoms a patient experiences and will play a major role in choosing the best course of treatment.

The cerebrum, the largest part of the brain, is considered the “thinking” part of the brain because this is where thought, analysis and decision-making occur, and where memory is stored. The cerebrum consists of two sides (hemispheres), which store information differently and require back-and-forth communication to process it.

The corpus callosum contains nerve fibers that allow the left and right sides (hemispheres) of the cerebrum to communicate. A tumor here can result in “disconnection syndrome” or “split-brain syndrome,” which may cause “word blindness” – loss of the ability to read or understand written words – and difficulty with recognition or the ability to carry out intended actions and movements.

Different lobes of the cerebrum carry out specific tasks.

The frontal lobe is generally where “higher functions” of thought, memory, judgment and movement originate.

The parietal lobe processes sensory information and is involved in orientation and recognition.

The occipital lobe processes visual information.

The temporal lobe is involved in hearing, language, expression and memory.

The brain stem, located under the cerebrum and in front of the cerebellum, connects the brain to the spinal cord. The brain stem itself controls many basic body functions required for life, such as breathing, heart rate, blood pressure and alertness. Also, all communication that takes place between the body and the brain goes through nerve pathways in the brain stem, and all but two of the 12 pairs of “cranial nerves” connect the brain with the brain stem. These nerves control eye movement; muscles and sensations of the face, mouth, tongue, throat, neck and shoulders; and hearing and balance. The brain stem consists of the midbrain, the pons, and the medulla oblongata.

Structures of the limbic system lie below the cerebrum and include the hypothalamus, which regulates body sensations and functions; the hippocampus, which plays a critical role in saving memories; and the amygdala, which is involved in anger and aggression. These and other small, related structures are important in the processing of perceptions and emotions.

The cerebellum lies beneath and to the back of the cerebrum. It communicates with the motor cortex in the cerebrum – where the brain plans and initiates muscle movements – and with the spinocerebellar tract of the spinal cord – which provides feedback on the location and position of body parts (proprioception). Processing and organizing this information, the cerebellum coordinates movement and maintains posture and equilibrium.

The floor of the cranial cavity forms the cranial base (or skull base) and is composed of five bones that separate the brain from facial and other structures. The cranial base is divided into three regions, or fossae (“hollows” that cup the brain). The anterior fossa at the front supports the frontal lobes of the brain. The middle fossa holds the temporal lobes and the pituitary gland. The posterior fossa at the back contains the cerebellum and the brain stem.
Located behind the face, virtually encased in bone, and containing major blood vessels and vital nerves, the cranial base is one of the most complex regions of the body for surgical interventions.

The pituitary gland, about the size of a pea, is situated generally behind the nose at the base of the brain. The pituitary is called the “master gland” because its hormones control the functions of the other hormone-producing glands in the body. Some tumors affecting this gland may cause under-production of pituitary hormones, but because the tumors arise from glandular cells, some actually produce hormones themselves and cause an excess of pituitary hormones.

The pituitary’s release of hormones is controlled by the hypothalamus, the brain’s control center for monitoring and regulating the body’s basic functions. The hypothalamus attaches to the posterior pituitary at the pituitary stalk.
The ventricles of the brain and the central canal of the spine are cavities filled with cerebrospinal fluid that provides a cushion round the brain and spinal cord. The ventricular system consists of four connected ventricles.

The meninges envelop the brain and spinal cord and consist of three layers. The pia mater lies closest to the brain, the arachnoid (or arachnoid mater) is the center membrane, and the dura (dura mater) is the hard, top layer next to the bone of the cranium.

The spinal cord consists of a complex network of nerve fibers. It is responsible for certain reflex functions and it provides instantaneous communication between the brain and the body. Tumors of the area of the spine may occur within the spinal cord itself (intramedullary), in the structures within the dura (intradural), or in the bones (vertebra) and structures of the spinal column.
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