Brain tumors are uncommon, but the risk of being diagnosed with one increases with age.
About 72,360 Americans over age 40 will be diagnosed with a primary brain tumor in 2022, according to the National Brain Tumor Society. And each year 70,000 to 170,000 people are diagnosed with secondary (metastatic) brain tumors, caused by a cancer that started elsewhere in the body, like in the lung or colon. Older adults are also at higher risk for these types of tumors because they’re more likely to have experienced cancer in their lifetime.
What’s more, nearly half of all glioblastomas — one of the most aggressive and deadly types of brain tumor — are diagnosed in patients older than 65.
Not all brain tumors are cancerous; in fact, most aren’t. But even benign tumors can be life-threatening and can cause debilitating symptoms, such as blurry vision, hearing loss and confusion.
An individual’s prognosis depends on what type of tumor they have and how quickly it is detected, says Katy Peters, M.D., a neurologist in the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at the Duke University School of Medicine. “For most every kind of brain tumor, if you can get it out early while it’s smaller, you have a better prognosis,” she says. “We want to catch things before they cause any permanent damage.”
Symptoms vary, depending on the tumor’s location. And because brain tumors are so rare — affecting about 30 out of 100,000 American adults, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine — common warning signs can often point to other health conditions, Peters notes. She recommends talking with a doctor right away if you experience any of the following symptoms:
1. A seizure or muscle spasms
A seizure happens when something disturbs normal brain activity, and it’s often the most obvious symptom of a brain tumor, says Keith Black, M.D., chair of the department of neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.