Are you worried about brain tumours – when do I need an MRI scan ?

Are you worried about the possibility that you may have a brain tumour and considering an MRI scan? Brain tumours can occur at any age. They are most common in older adults but they kill more children and adults under 40 than any other type of cancer.

March is brain tumour awareness month in the UK. Whilst you may think that brain tumours are rare, 1 in 3 of us know someone who has been affected by this devastating disease. In this blog post, we will outline when you should consider having an MRI for diagnosing a potential brain tumour or to give you peace of mind.

Brain Tumours and the different types

Brain tumours are abnormal growths in the brain that can either be benign or malignant. These tumours can be found anywhere in the brain and may cause physical symptoms such as intense headaches, difficulty speaking, memory impairment, changes in behaviour or personality, seizures, vomiting and difficulty balancing. There are many different types of primary brain tumours that can further be categorized into three distinct groups: gliomas form from cells within the brain known as glial cells; meningiomas form from cells within the lining of membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord; and finally schwannomas are tumors arising from nerve sheath cells surrounding cranial nerves.

Brain tumours are divided into four classifications – grades 1 and 2 are low-grade, grades 3 and 4 are classed as high-grade. High-grade or malignant brain tumours are aggressive and can spread quickly in the brain, and are usually a serious threat to life. Low-grade or benign brain tumours are slower-growing and not usually immediately life threatening, but can still have a potentially dangerous impact on a person’s well-being.

Secondary tumours occur after cancer has spread to the brain from other parts of the body (called metastases) and although not necessarily characterized by their location, could affect any region of the brain.

Symptoms of a brain tumour

Brain tumours can cause a wide array of symptoms, some of which can be mild and others severe.

Headache is a common symptom and there are many reasons for having a headache. Features that may be indicative of a brain tumour is a headache that is…

  • severe and persistent
  • often worse in the morning
  • gets worse over a number of days
  • gives stabbing pains if you do anything that increases the pressure in your head, for example coughing, shouting, bending over or doing exercise.

Other symptoms include:

  • Continuing nausea, vomiting
  • Extreme or sudden drowsiness
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears) or hearing loss
  • Unexplained twitches of the face or limbs
  • Seizures (fits or faints)
  • Appearing to be lost in a deep daydream for a short while
  • Confusion
  • Loss of balance
  • Numbness or weakness in the arms or legs, especially if progressive and leading to paralysis
  • Numbness or weakness in a part of the face, so that the muscles drop slightly
  • Numbness or weakness on one side of the body, resulting in stumbling or lack of co-ordination
  • Changes in personality or behaviour
  • Impaired memory or mental ability, which may be very subtle to begin with
  • Changes in senses, including sight and smell
  • Problems with speech, writing or drawing
  • Loss of concentration or difficulty in concentrating
  • Changes in sleep patterns

A lot of these symptoms are seen with a variety of medical conditions therefore if you are unsure if they are significant, you could discuss these with your doctor.

Diagnosis of brain tumours

Definitive diagnosis of a brain tumour is with CT or MRI scan. Whilst a CT scan can show the basic size, shape and location of a brain tumour, an MRI scan is required in order to gain more detailed information. MRI is also considered safe, and does not involve radiation.

Due to the difficulty in diagnosing brain tumours, largely because the symptoms like headache are so common, there can be a delay in getting an MRI scan. MRI scans that are performed for headache are frequently normal, but this reassurance can give significant peace of mind, particularly if you have known someone affected by a brain tumour.

Treatment options available for brain tumours

Brain tumours are a serious health concern and can cause significant disruption to quality of life. Fortunately, modern medicine offers several treatment options for those with such an illness. Surgery is typically the first form of treatment, used to remove as much of the tumour as possible while causing minimal damage to surrounding healthy brain tissue. If complete removal is not possible or if medical imaging suggests cells from the tumour have spread, then radiation therapy or chemotherapy may be used in its place. Gamma knife radiosurgery is another highly targeted approach that minimises healthy tissue damage and improves overall recovery times for patients. Lastly, clinical trials are an important part of seeking treatments for brain tumours; these offer new approaches and therapies through carefully monitored studies conducted by leading doctors in the field.

Only 12% of people diagnosed with a brain tumour survive for five years. This is compared with the average of 50% for all cancers, 85% for breast cancer, and 95% for prostate cancer. Despite this, only 1% of the national spend on cancer research goes into brain tumour research, a fact that many charities in the UK are trying to highlight to the UK government.

Support and advice available to help those affected by a brain tumour diagnosis

For someone affected by a brain tumour diagnosis, receiving the appropriate support and advice can be critical to their emotional and physical well-being. There are many organisations providing free emotional, practical and financial aid to individuals impacted by such a diagnosis. These can be found on the webpage.

Additionally, patient advocacy services are available to help understand medical options and provide advice. With an aim to make long-term impact, the support extends past treatment completion and into everyday living. Overall, those with a brain tumour diagnosis should know there is assistance available that is tailored precisely to their situation.

Take home message

Living with a brain tumour can be a difficult and frightening experience but it is important to remember that there is support available for those affected.

If you have any concerns or think you may need an MRI scan, you can speak with your doctor, or book yourself an MRI scan online today. When it comes to getting a diagnosis or obtaining peace of mind, it’s easier than ever to obtain an MRI scan.


Dr. Sarah Laporte

No GP Referral Required

Fixed Prices

Secure Report Access

Turnaround Within Days

Book your own private MRI scan