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Stage 4 Brain Cancer: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

written by: DaniellaNicole • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 11/17/2010

Learn about stage 4 brain cancer in this overview. Find out about causes, symptoms and the diagnosis of this disease. Discover what treatments may be used and how those treatment options are decided.

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    About Brain Cancer

    Stage 4 brain cancer is defined by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) as having spread to other organs. Cancers are ‘staged’ by a number of factors and the type of cancer involved can play a role in how the cancer is classified.

    NCI uses the example that, “breast cancer classified as T3 N2 M0 refers to a large tumor that has spread outside the breast to nearby lymph nodes but not to other parts of the body. Prostate cancer T2 N0 M0 means that the tumor is located only in the prostate and has not spread to the lymph nodes or any other part of the body.

    For many cancers, TNM combinations correspond to one of five stages. Criteria for stages differ for different types of cancer. For example, bladder cancer T3 N0 M0 is stage III, whereas colon cancer T3 N0 M0 is stage II."

    The Oncology Channel states that in the U.S., brain cancer cases have an annual incidence rate of approximately 15 to 20 cases per 100,000 people, though it is “the leading cause of cancer-related death in patients younger than age 35."

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    Causes

    What is known about the development of malignant (cancerous) brain tumors is that they can be caused by exposure to vinyl chloride or may be secondary to melanoma, lung cancer, breast cancer, kidney cancer and colon cancer.

    Certain other medical factors can increase a patient’s risk for developing brain cancer. These include neurofibromatosis type 2, Von Hippel-Lindau disease, retinoblastoma and multiple endocrine Neoplasia type 1.

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    Symptoms

    The symptoms of brain cancer include the development of one or more tumors which can affect a variety of functions. Depending upon the location of the tumor(s), a patient may experience vision loss, memory loss, speech impairment, seizures, headaches, vomiting, incontinence, hearing loss and behavioral changes, amongst a host of other possible symptoms.

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    Diagnosis

    The diagnosis of brain cancer involves symptom evaluation, medical history review, neurological exam, imaging testing (CT scan, MRI, PET scan) and biopsy.

    Once diagnosed, the brain cancer will be staged, as explained earlier.

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    Treatment

    Treatment for stage 4 brain cancer can be complex and will vary upon a number of factors. Typical brain cancer treatment can involve surgery, steroids to reduce swelling, radiation and/or chemotherapy. Personal preference, doctor recommendation and other medical considerations are all factors in the options presented to the patient for treatment.

    It should be noted that more than one doctor may be involved in the treatment decision process. Oncologists, neurosurgeons, the treating physician and radiation oncologists can all help the patient in exploring options and learning more about the risks and prognosis.

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    References

    Cancer Staging. National Cancer Institute. U.S. National Institutes of Health. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Detection/staging

    Brain Cancer Overview, Incidence and Prevalence of Brain Cancer. Reviewed by Stanley J. Swierzewski, iii, MD. Last Reviewed December 4, 2007. http://www.oncologychannel.com/braincancer/index.shtml