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The Not So Obvious Symptoms: Brain Tumors

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Five years ago, my mother began to experience nasal congestion, occasional nosebleeds, and pressure in the nasal passages. It was thought to be due to seasonal allergies, and there was slight improvement when she was treated with allergy medication.

Later, she became aware of a mass adjacent to her right ear; this was thought to be an enlarged lymph node. The combined symptoms led to the original diagnosis of sinusitis; treatment with Prednisone and antibiotics slightly relieved the symptoms and minimal reduction in the size of the mass was noted. My mother was also aware that her right eye protruded more than the left eye and there was an increase in tearing. By late 2007, it was suspected that the mass was not an enlarged lymph node, and a series of CT Scans of the skull and orbits were ordered. The scans revealed a significant mass pushing on the frontal lobe of the brain: a biopsy confirmed the diagnosis of olfactory neuroblastoma.

An olfactory neuroblastoma is a rare form of cancer. The tumor originates in the nasal cavity (stage A); by the time it progresses to the brain, it has entered stage C and the tumor is pushing against the frontal lobe. Treatment is similar to other forms of cancer: my mother first started with chemotherapy; however, due to the size of the tumor pressing against her brain, the edema resulting from the chemotherapy caused my mother to go into a coma for a day. Before radiation, she underwent an eight-hour surgery that resulted in the excision of a 3.5 inch malignant mass. The center portion of the forehead was removed: the bone had eroded as a result of pressure of the mass in such a confined space. After a year and a half after the initial cancer diagnosis, my mother is stronger than ever and living life to its fullest.

Brain tumors are hard to diagnose—not all patients have symptoms. After reviewing literature on olfactory neuroblastoma, the symptoms are atypical: difficulty breathing was the most common, but most people wouldn’t assume that a stuffy nose would equate to a brain tumor.

According to the Mayo Clinic, general symptoms for brain tumors include:

• New onset or change in pattern of headaches
• Headaches that gradually become more frequent and more severe
• Unexplained nausea or vomiting
• Vision problems, such as blurred vision, double vision or loss of peripheral vision
• Gradual loss of sensation or movement in an arm or a leg
• Difficulty with balance
• Speech difficulties
• Confusion in everyday matters
• Personality or behavior changes
• Seizures, especially in someone who doesn't have a history of seizures
• Hearing problems
• Hormonal (endocrine) disorders

If you experience any of these symptoms, consult your doctor. Because many of these symptoms, like my mother’s, are similar to other conditions, your doctor will be able to perform the appropriate tests. If you do have a malignant brain tumor, be your best advocate: research hospitals in your area that have experience dealing with brain cancers and offer the care you need.

For more information on brain tumors, visit the Mayo Clinic’s website: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/brain-tumor/DS00281

Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch is a bachelor's of science candidate in neuroscience at Trinity College in Hartford, CT. She's the senior co-editor of the Feminist Scholarship Review and Women Unite!

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EmpowHER Guest

Patients may also experience confusion, personality trait changes, weakness in arms or legs, hearing impairment, to epilepsy. If these symptoms occur, you should immediately consult a physician for further examination.
Brain cancer symptoms

April 3, 2011 - 11:45pm

Your mom is really lucky one and even you. Atleast the tumor got diagnosed. I am thinking about the pain she might be facing due to stress on her eyes. God bless her.

August 2, 2010 - 11:22pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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