Could that pounding headache be caused by a brain tumor?
It’s a question many people have asked themselves, especially those that struggle with severe or recurring headaches. The good news is that headaches, by themselves, are rarely caused by brain tumors, says fellowship-trained neurosurgeon Dr. Oluwaseun Omofoye, who leads the brain tumor program at Tidelands Health.
Typically, he says, headaches associated with a brain tumor are accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea and vomiting. Meanwhile, the risk of experiencing a brain tumor is very small – fewer than 1 percent of adults are affected by them.
Brain tumor signs and symptoms
Although persistent or severe headaches are a common symptom of a brain tumor, headaches are not present in every case. Brain tumors can also cause:
- Blurred vision
- Numb hands or feet
- Slurred speech
- Memory loss
- Difficulty finding the right words
- Difficulty balancing or walking in a straight line
- Vomiting or nausea
- Personality changes
If your provider is concerned about the possibility of a brain tumor or other neurological condition, imaging tests to examine the brain are typically one of the first steps.
“Symptoms of a brain tumor can vary significantly,” Dr. Omofoye explains. “And sometimes they overlap with stroke-like symptoms.”
Listen to this Better Health Podcast as Tidelands Health neurosurgeon Dr. Oluwaseun Omofoye discusses signs and symptoms of brain tumors.
If an abnormal growth or tumor is discovered, a brain biopsy may be needed. One of the common goals of a brain biopsy is to take samples of tissue for testing to determine whether the mass is benign (slow-growing and non-cancerous) or malignant (fast-growing and cancerous).
At Tidelands Health, state-of-the-art cranial robotics technology is routinely used to perform brain biopsies that are less invasive and lead to significantly reduced recovery times for patients compared to traditional methods. The technology is part of the expanding neurosciences program at Tidelands Health, our region’s largest health care provider. The health system is expanding neurosciences care as part of the not-for-profit organization’s commitment to provide area residents with the advanced care they need close to home.
Tests reveal a brain tumor. Now what?
Once doctors have identified a brain tumor, the next step is to assess the best way to treat it. And that can depend greatly on what type of tumor it is and what’s causing it.
Depending on the situation, benign tumors that are causing symptoms or growing can be removed through craniotomies, which are performed by neurosurgeons.
Primary brain tumors, meaning tumors originating from the brain tissue itself, can also be classified as malignant. This category of tumors includes glioblastomas, a type of brain tumor that increases in size very quickly and has a poor prognosis.
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Patients need to check in periodically to help ensure the tumor hasn’t returned.
Malignant brain tumors are often caused by metastasis, when cancer moves from one part of the body to another. Lung cancer, for example, is notorious for spreading to the brain. In those cases, quick and aggressive treatment is essential.
“Most of the time, it’s a tumor that’s spread from somewhere else, like a cancer already known in a different part of the body that spreads to the brain,” Dr. Omofoye says.
The type, size and location of a malignant brain tumor play a critical role in determining the best treatment approach
“At Tidelands Health, we use a multidisciplinary approach to treat brain tumors,” Dr. Omofoye says. “Often, treatment for malignant tumors includes a combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.”
If neurosurgery is needed, patients at Tidelands Health can benefit from an advanced, minimally invasive approach that allows surgeons to enter the brain and remove the tumor through a tube only 13 millimeters in diameter, Dr. Omofoye says. Technology that acts like a GPS for surgery can link a patient’s brain MRI with their skull in real time, providing accurate image-guidance during brain surgery.
Depending on the patient’s condition, an advanced microscope can be used to visualize the tumor inside the brain, an approach that can be especially important in situations where a tumor is not visually distinct from normal brain tissue.
“The reason we do this is to basically minimize any damage to the normal brain structures and focus on taking the tumor out safely,” says Dr. Omofoye.
When to seek medical care
If you are struggling with recurring or persistent headaches or other symptoms that concern you or are disrupting your daily life, be sure to seek out medical care, Dr. Omofoye says. Seek immediate medical attention if you or someone you know experiences a seizure, symptoms of a stroke or any other emergency medical condition.
Although brain tumors are rare, they are a serious diagnosis, Dr. Omofoye says. Even non-cancerous tumors can affect brain function or health. Fortunately, treatment options continue to advance, resulting in better outcomes for patients.
“At Tidelands Health, our goal is to provide patients with brain tumors and other neurological conditions the best possible care they can receive anywhere in the country,” he says.
Dr. Oluwaseun Omofoye
Neurosurgeon, Tidelands Health
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Dr. Oluwaseun Omofoye is a fellowship-trained neurosurgeon at Tidelands Health Neurosciences in Murrells Inlet.Learn More
University of North Carolina, School of Medicine
University of California Davis Medical Center, Neurosurgery
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Neurosurgical Oncology/Skull Base
- James E. Boggan Resident Scholar Award, UC Davis Department of Neurosurgery, 2020
- Kaiser Foundation Hospital Sacramento Department of Neurosurgery Resident Award, 2020
- Resident Scholarship Award, San Francisco Neurological Society, 2020
- Elizabeth Bullitt Resident of the Year Award, UNC Department of Neurosurgery, 2017
- First Place, 2015 UNC Healthcare Quality Expo
- The UNC Medical Alumni Loyalty Fund Scholarship, 2011
- First Place, Biological and Health Sciences Oral Presentation, UNC Research Day 2011
- The June C. Allcott Fellowship, 2011
- Eugene Mayer Community Service Honor Society Inductee, 2011
- The John B. Graham Student Research Society Inductee , 2011
Meet the Expert
Dr. Oluwaseun Omofoye
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Dr. Oluwaseun Omofoye is a fellowship-trained neurosurgeon at Tidelands Health Neurosciences in Murrells Inlet.