Signs & Symptoms

of Brain Tumors

Symptoms of brain tumors vary widely depending on the type and location of the tumor. However, some of the most common symptoms are nausea, vomiting, and headaches. These are often caused by increased intracranial pressure, or increased pressure within the skull, which causes compression of the brain tissue.

In addition to increasing pressure, tumors encroach on and/or damage surrounding normal tissue as they grow. In the case of brain tumors, this can result in impaired cognitive functions and associated symptoms. The symptoms associated with brain tumors depend largely on where the tumor is located. The different areas of the brain, called lobes, are responsible for different brain functions. For example, memory is performed primarily in the frontal lobe of the brain (the front part of the brain, located right behind the forehead). A brain tumor in the frontal lobe may be associated with memory loss. However, the areas of the brain perform a variety of functions, therefore, symptoms may be diverse.

Symptoms associated with the main parts of the brain may include one or more of the following:1,2

Frontal lobe (located in the front, behind the forehead)

  • Memory loss
  • Impaired sense of smell
  • Vision loss
  • Behavioral, emotional and cognitive changes
  • Impaired judgment

Parietal lobe (near the crown of the head)

  • Impaired speech
  • Inability to write
  • Lack of recognition

Occipital lobe (rear and bottom of the skull)

  • Vision loss in one or both eyes and seizures

Temporal lobe (located at the side of the head, behind the temples)

  • Impaired speech
  • Seizures
  • Some patients may not exhibit any symptoms

Brainstem (located deep in the brain)

  • Irritability
  • Difficulty speaking and swallowing
  • Drowsiness
  • Headache, especially in the morning
  • Muscle weakness on one side of the face or body
  • Vision loss, drooping eyelid or crossed eyes
  • Vomiting

Risk factors

A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing cancer.  Risk factors can influence the development of cancer but most do not directly cause cancer. Many individuals with risk factors will never develop cancer and others with no known risk factors will.  Most brain cancers develop sporadically, which means for no known reason. Some brain cancers however are more likely to develop in individuals with certain risk factors that increase the chance of having a brain cancer.

The following factors may raise a person’s risk for developing brain cancer:1,2

  • Age. Brain cancers are more common in children and older adults, although people of any age can develop a brain tumor.
  • Gender. In general, men are more likely than women to develop a brain tumor.
  • Family history. About 5% of brain cancers are linked to hereditary genetic factors or condition including; (delink all these)
    • Li-Fraumeni syndrome
    • neurofibromatosis
    • nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome
    • tuberous sclerosis
    • Turcot syndrome
    • von HippelLindau disease
  • Exposure to infections, viruses, and allergens. Infection with the EpsteinBarr virus (EBV) increases the risk of CNS lymphoma. EBV is more commonly known as the virus that causes “mono”.
  • Home and work exposures. Exposure to solvents, pesticides, oil products, rubber, or vinyl chloride may increase the risk of developing a brain tumor.
  • Electromagnetic fields. Most studies evaluating the role of electromagnetic fields, such as energy from power lines or from cell phone use, show no link to an increased risk of developing a brain tumor in adults. Because of conflicting information regarding risk in children, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends limiting cell phone use and promotes the use of a handsfree headset for both adults and children.3
  • Ionizing radiation. Previous treatment to the brain or head with ionizing radiation, including xrays, has shown, in some cases, to be a risk factor for a brain tumor.
  • Exposure to nerve agents. A study has shown that some Gulf War veterans may have an increased risk of a brain tumor from exposure to nerve agents.

Next: Diagnostic Tests for Brain Tumors


1 American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2017.