Signs and Symptoms of Brain Cancer

A brain tumor can obstruct the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which results in the accumulation of CSF (hydrocephalus) and increased intracranial pressure (IICP). Nausea, vomiting, and headaches are common symptoms.

Brain tumors can damage vital neurological pathways and invade and compress brain tissue. Symptoms usually develop over time and their characteristics depend on the location and size of the tumor. A brain tumor in the frontal lobe may cause the following:

  • Behavioral and emotional changes
  • Impaired judgment
  • Impaired sense of smell
  • Memory loss
  • Paralysis on one side of the body (hemiplegia)
  • Reduced mental capacity (cognitive function)
  • Vision loss and inflammation of the optic nerve (papilledema)

A tumor located in both the right and left hemispheres of the frontal lobe often cause behavioral changes, cognitive changes, and a clumsy, uncoordinated gait.

A tumor in the parietal lobe may cause the following symptoms:

  • Impaired speech
  • Inability to write
  • Lack of recognition
  • Seizures
  • Spatial disorders

Vision loss in one or both eyes and seizures may result from a tumor located in the occipital lobe.

Tumors that develop in the temporal lobe are often asymptomatic (i.e., without symptoms), but some may cause impaired speech and seizures.

A tumor in the brainstem may produce the following symptoms:

  • Behavioral and emotional changes (e.g., irritability)
  • Difficulty speaking and swallowing
  • Drowsiness
  • Headache, especially in the morning
  • Hearing loss
  • Muscle weakness on one side of the face (e.g., head tilt, crooked smile)
  • Muscle weakness on one side of the body (i.e., hemiparesis)
  • Uncoordinated gait
  • Vision loss, drooping eyelid (i.e., ptosis) or crossed eyes (i.e., strabismus)
  • Vomiting

Ependymoma originates in the lining of the ventricles and the spinal canal and may damage cranial nerves. When this happens, hydrocephalus, stiff neck, head tilt, and weakness may result.

Symptoms produced by a tumor of the meninges (meningioma) depend on which area of the brain is being compressed. They include:

  • Headache
  • Hearing loss
  • Impaired speech (i.e., dysphasia)
  • Incontinence
  • Mental and emotional changes (e.g., indifference, disinhibition)
  • Prolonged drowsiness (somnolence)
  • Seizures
  • Vision loss

A tumor located in the pituitary gland (i.e., pituitary adenoma) may increase the secretion of hormones and cause discontinuation of menstruation (i.e., amenorrhea) and excess secretion of milk (i.e., galactorrhea) in women. Impotence may occur in men.

Metastatic brain cancer tends to invade the brain tissue indiscriminately. Some signs and symptoms include the following:

  • Bleeding in the brain
  • Headache
  • Impaired mental function
  • Motor dysfunction
  • Nausea
  • Seizures
  • Swelling
  • Vomiting

Complications of Brain Cancer

Serious and sometimes life-threatening complications can develop with brain cancer.

  • Obstructed flow of cerebrospinal fluid from the third ventricle may cause sudden death.
  • Cerebral hernia is a progressive, fatal condition in which the brain is forced through an opening in the skull.
  • Hemorrhagic stroke produces sudden loss of vision and/or speech, unconsciousness, and paralysis.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 31 Jul 1999

Last Modified: 24 Oct 2014