Q&A: Brain Tumors

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There are treatments that offer hope and extend lives.

Danilo Silva, MD

Q: What is a brain tumor?
It is an abnormal growth of cells in or around the brain that can be non-cancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant). Two factors increase your risk of developing a brain tumor:  family history and exposure to powerful radiation.
There’s no proof that radiation from cell phones, microwaves, garage door openers or baby monitors boosts your risk.

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Q: What are the symptoms?
A: Red flags include the sudden onset of severe headaches or seizures. Other symptoms include increasing weakness in your arm or leg, double or worsening vision, hearing loss, personality changes, trouble speaking, balance problems, and difficulty walking. If you have any of these signs, consult your primary care physician or a neurologist, who will send you for a brain MRI. You may need a biopsy later for a more definitive diagnosis.

Q: What happens if I’m diagnosed with a brain tumor?
A: Find a neurosurgeon with specific training in brain tumors who can help you navigate treatment options. At Northern Westchester Hospital (NWH), when a patient is diagnosed with a brain tumor, we discuss the case in a multidisciplinary tumor board made up of neurosurgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, and other specialists, and collectively recommend the best treatment option.

Q: What are my treatment options?
A: If it’s slow-growing or benign tumor, depending on its location and your age, sometimes we only need to watch to make sure the tumor isn’t growing. Other times, we treat a benign tumor with medication, surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy, and often a combination of these.

The most common malignant brain tumor in adults is a glioblastoma (GBM). This can start as a very small tumor, then become very fast-growing.

Q: What results can I expect?
A: Stay optimistic. Today, there are many potentially effective treatment options for a cancerous brain tumor. At Northern Westchester Hospital, we collaborate with the most brilliant minds in neurosurgery, medical oncology, and radiation oncology across the entire Northwell Health system (to which NWH belongs), where trials of new treatments are being conducted. NWH offers a wide range of leading-edge treatment options, and some are extremely effective. Some patients survive five years following surgery for a malignant brain tumor. And there are occasional cures.

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At Northern Westchester Hospital, surgeons operate on brain tumors effectively and safely using a system called neuro-navigation. I call it ‘GPS for the brain’ because the surgeon gets real-time feedback during surgery that lets us see exactly where we are in the brain. The Hospital has successfully treated certain skull base tumors with minimally invasive endoscopic techniques. We also offer a type of focused radiation therapy called Gamma Knife radiosurgery, which is the state-of-the-art treatment for tumors that have spread to the brain from elsewhere.

Because we’re using minimally invasive techniques to treat brain tumors, patients recover faster from surgery. That lets them start physical therapy, rehabilitation therapy, and/or cognitive therapy sooner, which also improves outcomes.

Danilo Silva, MD
Northern Westchester Hospital
Director of Neurosurgery at Phelps Hospital

Visit the Neurosurgery Department at Northern Westchester Hospital

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