Signs & symptoms of brain cancer or tumors

Updated February 21, 2017

Each year, over 22,000 Americans receive a diagnosis that they have a brain tumour, including cancerous growths on the brain, reports the National Cancer Institute. A brain tumour can grow on any part of your brain, and when it becomes large enough to interfere with how your brain functions, it causes noticeable signs and symptoms. The type and severity of these symptoms varies greatly based upon the location, size and type of tumour, explains the Mayo Clinic.


One of the most common symptoms of brain cancer is headaches, reports the U.S. National Library of Medicine. While common even among people without cancer, headaches caused by brain cancer have some characteristics that may separate them from other types of head pain. Headaches caused by tumours often begin during sleep, affecting you when you first awaken and persisting for a few hours during the start of your day. The pain may worsen when you cough, exercise or change body positioning, and pain medications generally do nothing to alleviate the pain. As the cancer progresses or the tumour grows larger, the headaches typically increase in frequency and intensity, explains the Mayo Clinic.


Brain tumours sometimes cause seizures, sudden changes in the electrical activity of your brain, according to the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. Seizures caused by cancer can take many forms, including grand mal seizures. This type produces a sudden loss of consciousness and jerking or twitching of your limbs. Another type, a complex partial seizure, causes loss causes patients to "zone out," making them stare off into space and preventing them from responding. The third type, simple partial seizures, produces responses confined to one part of the body like twitching or abnormal movements of an arm, leg or your face.

Neurological Symptoms

Other neurological symptoms are also possible with brain cancer or tumours, reports the U.S. National Library of Medicine. These include dizziness, abnormalities of the eyes, vertigo and numbness or tingling in one part of your body. Patients with brain tumours also experience changes in alertness, such as feeling drowsy more often or even falling into a coma.

Sensory Symptoms

A brain tumour also has a potential to affect your senses, explains the Oncology Channel. Tumors can disrupt your vision, causing blurriness, double images or even blindness. Some patients also experience loss of vision on the left or right side of their fields of vision, according to the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. You may also notice a decrease in your hearing, a change in the way thing smell or taste or differences in the way you sense temperature, pain or pressure.

Cognitive Symptoms

Cognitive symptoms can also arise from brain cancer or tumours, including confusion, memory loss, difficulty reading or writing or trouble speaking, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Some patients develop aphasia or the inability to recall what word to use in a given situation. Others experience changes in their personality, such as feeling indifference toward important matters or becoming impulsive or reckless.

Other Symptoms

Other symptoms of brain cancer or tumours include loss of balance or coordination, urinary incontinence, vomiting, obesity, excessive facial hair, enlargement of your hands or feet, the growth of feminine breasts in men and the absence of menstruation in women.

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About the Author

Faith Davies has been writing professionally since 1996, contributing to various websites. She holds an LAH insurance license in the state of Pennsylvania and has experience as a bank branch manager and lending officer. Davies graduated cum laude from the University of Pittsburgh with a Bachelor of Arts in art history.