Do you know anyone who has never experienced headaches at all? My guess is no.
Headaches are common and occur due to a wide variety of reasons. When we have a headache, it feels like the pain comes from inside the brain. But it begins in the nerves in muscles and blood vessels surrounding the head, neck, and face.
Most headaches are harmless and are caused by overactivity or problems in the pain-sensitive structures in the head. They are not a symptom of any underlying disease.
But what triggers these harmless headaches, you might ask? It is a combination of genetics and lifestyle factors. You might have genes that make you more likely to have headaches, or you might be exerting too much while exercising or playing sports. It might be due to your lifestyle - lack of sleep, stress, alcohol, and skipped meals. All the above contribute to these harmless headaches.
In some cases, headaches might be a symptom of an underlying disease, and a brain tumor is one such serious condition. India has over 28,000 cases of brain tumors every year, and this number keeps growing.
Any unnecessary growth of cells in the brain is called a brain tumor. Almost two-thirds of the brain tumors are benign, which means that they are localized and don’t spread to other areas in the brain. But a small group of brain tumors (less than one-third) are malignant, which means they spread uncontrollably and are cancerous.
Brain tumors are classified into primary and secondary brain tumors based on how they are formed. A primary brain tumor originates in the brain. A secondary brain tumor is a metastatic cancerous tumor that spreads to the brain from other parts of the body such as breast, lung, kidney, colon, skin through the bloodstream. About 40% of all cancers spread to the brain. Brain and central nervous system tumors make up 26% of all cancers diagnosed in children, making them the second most common cancers.
The seriousness of this condition makes one wonder who is more likely to have a brain tumor, what preventive steps one can take to avoid getting it, how one recognizes it early, and what treatment options one has if they have a brain tumor.
What Can We Do
The likelihood of getting a brain tumor depends on a few risk factors:
- Exposure to Radiation and Chemicals
- Genetic disorders
- Past history of cancers
- Age - children and older people have a higher risk
As they say, prevention is the best cure, there are many steps you can take proactively to start your prevention journey. Reducing exposure to chemicals and radiation sources such as X-rays and getting genomic tests like Whole Exome Sequencing from Mapmygenome will help you identify gene variants that might increase your risk.
Despite our best efforts, sometimes preventive measures are not enough. Since the symptoms of brain tumors develop gradually, they are often ignored. So we have to be vigilant about the early symptoms of brain tumors.
But how do we know when we need to be concerned?
It is wise to consult a doctor when one has severe headaches, especially in the morning, coupled with other symptoms of brain tumor-like seizures, problems with vision, vomiting, and difficulty walking or speaking. If a person is diagnosed with a brain tumor, the doctor may suggest surgery, radiotherapy, medication based on the location and type of brain tumor.
Overall, making proactive lifestyle choices and being vigilant to the early symptoms of brain tumors can help us manage this condition.