Signs & Symptoms of a Brain Tumor

Brain tumors can cause a range of symptoms that vary depending on the tumor’s type, size, and location. 

The most common brain tumor symptoms according to the National Cancer Institute are listed below. Experiencing any of these issues does not mean you have a brain tumor – each one can have a variety of causes. Be sure to talk with your healthcare team as soon as possible if you start to experience any new or concerning symptoms.

Common Brain Tumor Signs and Symptoms

A seizure is a period of sudden, uncontrolled body movements and changes in behavior caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Seizures can be caused by many neurological conditions, including brain tumors. Though any type of brain tumor can cause seizures, they occur more commonly in low-grade, noncancerous tumors. Seizure symptoms include:

  • Loss of awareness
  • Changes in emotion
  • Loss of muscle control
  • Shaking

Headaches are a common ailment in healthy people and can be the result of many everyday causes. Headaches that are associated with brain tumors, however, typically have clear differences from “regular” headaches. Headaches caused by brain tumors usually:

  • Are worst early in the morning
  • Increase in frequency and intensity over time
  • Are associated with repeated or prolonged vomiting
  • Can be made worse by coughing, sneezing, or straining
  • Don’t respond to typical over-the-counter medications

Tumors growing in areas of the brain responsible for language function may cause speech and comprehension challenges. The frontal lobe, for example, is responsible for language production, concentration, and thinking, while the temporal lobe processes emotion and understands words and directions. Disruption in these areas by a tumor may cause:

  • Inability to recall the name of an object
  • Trouble paying attention or staying focused
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Problems understanding long sentences
  • Inappropriate responses in conversation

While a degree of memory loss is normal, dramatic forgetfulness could be the sign of a potential brain tumor. Examples of severe memory loss include:

  • Forgetting the names of everyday objects like “key” or “TV”
  • Asking the same question repeatedly with no memory of having asked it before
  • Not remembering how to do simple tasks like button a shirt or use a fork
  • Being unable to read or understand words or numbers on a page

“Mass effect” is an umbrella term for the secondary side effects caused by a tumor growing within the brain. Brain tumors are unique because they have a limited amount of space in which to grow. If a tumor grows large enough, it can press on the surrounding brain tissue. A brain tumor may also cause fluid to build up in the brain, which can cause problems as well. Symptoms of mass effect can include:

  • Fatigue or drowsiness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Changes in personality or behavioral
  • Problems with vision

Nurse Practitioner Christine Siegel of the National Cancer Institute explains common symptoms of brain tumors and provides some tips on how to manage them.