Mass and Lesion

The brain and spinal cord have many tissues and cells, which can develop into different tumors. Receiving a brain tumor or lesion diagnosis can be unsettling. Learning their differences and symptoms can help you better understand your condition and treatment options.

What Is a Mass and Lesion?

A mass is a lump in any part of the body caused by the formation of abnormal growth of cells or cysts, hormonal changes or an immune reaction. Brain and spinal cord tumors are masses of abnormal cells in the brain or spinal cord tissues that have either formed into new growth or have been present at birth (congenital) that multiplied in an abnormal, uncontrollable way. Tumors can be noncancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant).

Although benign brain and spinal cord tumors do not grow into nearby tissues or spread to distant areas like malignant brain and spinal cord tumors, in rare circumstances, they can grow, press on and destroy normal brain tissue, which can negatively impact certain functions or sometimes even lead to life-threatening damage. More than 120 brain and spinal cord tumor types are named by location or the type of cell they most closely resemble. They are not transmissible or, at this time, preventable.

A lesion is a patch or area of abnormal tissue caused by an injury or disease. Lesions are often seen as bright areas or spots on MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) brain scans. They may also appear as black holes with other imaging techniques. They can range from small (focal lesion) to large (diffuse lesion), from benign to malignant.

What Causes Masses and Lesions?

The cause of most brain tumors is unknown, but several risk factors may increase your chances of developing a brain tumor, which include:

  • Age. A person's risk of developing a brain tumor increases with age. However, some types of brain tumors are more common in children.
  • Radiation. A small number of brain tumors are associated with radiation exposure. Some types of brain tumors are more common in people who have had radiotherapy, CT scans or X-rays of the head.
  • Family history and genetic conditions. Genetic conditions, such as tuberous sclerosis, neurofibromatosis type 1, neurofibromatosis type 2 and Turner syndrome, are known to increase the risk of developing brain tumors.

Some known possible causes of brain lesions include vascular diseases, such as stroke, migraine and multiple sclerosis. They can also occur in the following conditions:

  • Genetic diseases
  • Toxic disorders
  • Infections
  • Inflammatory conditions
  • Metabolic disturbances
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Cancer
  • Neoplasia
  • Hydrocephalus

What Are the Symptoms of Masses and Lesions?

Brain tumors and lesions present similar symptoms. Like brain lesions, sometimes brain tumors are so small that some people may not have any symptoms or are so minimal that they dismiss them for something else. However, as the brain tumor grows slowly over time, signs and symptoms begin to appear and can vary depending on the tumor's location within the brain, its size and how quickly it grows. Common symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty thinking, speaking or finding words
  • Changes in personality or behavior
  • Weakness, numbness or loss of movement in one part or one side of the body
  • Difficulty with balance or dizziness
  • Sensory changes like difficulty hearing, difficulty seeing or loss of smell
  • Memory loss
  • Confusion in everyday matters or disorientation
  • Unexplained nausea or vomiting
  • Fatigue or muscle weakness

People with brain tumors or lesions may experience other signs and symptoms, such as:

  • Abnormal eye movements
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Trouble walking
  • Weakness or drooping of one side of the face
  • Loss of appetite or weight loss
  • Slurred speech

How Are Mass and Lesions Diagnosed?

In many cases, if a provider suspects you have a brain tumor or lesion, he/she will perform a neurologic exam to assess movement and sensory skills, hearing and speech, reflexes, vision, coordination and balance, mental status and changes in mood or behavior. Your doctor may also add diagnostic imaging, such as computed tomography (CT) and MRI, to view the inside structures of your body, including tissues, organs, bones and nerves. Your doctor may also recommend other diagnostic tests, such as blood and urine tests, electroencephalogram (EEG), spinal tap or magnetoencephalography (MEG). These tests can help confirm the diagnosis and determine the type of tumor or lesion and treatment options.

What Are the Treatments for Mass and Lesions?

Like brain tumors, brain lesion treatment depends on the affected area's location within the brain. For multiple sclerosis lesions, treatments can only prevent or slow down the progression of some of its types and help manage symptoms. Treatment options may include disease-modifying therapies to help reduce the number of relapses and help prevent or delay its progression, treatments for flares and plasma exchange for when symptoms worsen or do not improve after treatment with corticosteroids.

Aside from the location of the tumor, treatments for brain tumors also depend on the tumor's type and size of the tumor and how far it has spread, how abnormal the cells are, and the patient's overall health. Some treatments for brain tumors include steroids to help reduce swelling around the tumor, anti-epileptic medicines to help manage seizures and painkillers for headaches, neurosurgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

If you have any new, chronic or concerning symptoms or suspect a brain tumor or lesion, please talk to your healthcare provider as soon as possible for proper diagnosis and medical attention. Please don't delay care.

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