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What Is the Connection between Brain Cancer and Headaches?

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  • Written By: April S. Kenyon
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 01 November 2016
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A connection is often made between brain cancer and headaches. One of the primary links lies in the fact that the human skull has a limited capacity. When an intruder, such as a brain tumor, takes up residence in the head, it begins to grow and expand, putting pressure upon the brain. The presence of the carcinoma disrupts the normal activities that typically occur within the skull, and swelling, pressure, and pain are often the result.

Another reason brain cancer and headaches are connected is because of a condition often referred to as hydrocephalus. Cerebrospinal fluid enters and exits the head through four ventricles in the brain. If brain cancer or a tumor is present, one or more of these ventricles may become blocked. When this occurs, the cerebrospinal fluid can build up in the head, causing pressure to be put on the brain and the meninges, membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. Headaches that are present upon waking up each morning are often the result of cerebrospinal fluid that has built up throughout the night, creating pressure upon the brain.

Headaches produced as the result of a brain tumor are often described as throbbing or pulsating. Some patients even define it as more of a pressure than an ache or pain. While brain cancer and headaches are commonly linked together, not all brain tumor patients experience headaches as a symptom. Likewise, not all headaches are the result of brain cancer.

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Patients who suffer from brain cancer and headaches typically notice a marked difference between regular headaches and those that are a result of the brain tumor. In general, headaches associated with brain tumors tend to present a dull throbbing or ache either over the entire head or just at the back of the head. Additionally, pain seems to worsen when bending over. Headaches that are the result of a brain tumor tend to reoccur at the same time each day and progressively worsen throughout the course of the day.

While headaches are one of the primary symptoms of metastatic brain cancer and other brain tumors, they can also be caused by a number of other conditions or situations. A connection between brain cancer and headaches should not automatically be made simply based upon throbbing head pain or a dull ache alone. Headaches are often accompanied by a number of other symptoms when brain cancer is the culprit, such as vision and coordination problems, nausea, and dizziness.

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literally45
Post 3

I've read that about 10% of people who visit a doctor for headaches get a brain scan but only 1% of those scans show something wrong. And something wrong isn't necessarily cancer either.

There is of course a connection between brain cancer and headaches. But I agree with the other comment that most people who have headaches do not have brain cancer.

Part of the problem is probably the fact that patients aren't receiving proper treatment for their headaches, or the cause of the headache isn't discovered. Maybe we need more research on headaches and migraines in general, why they happen and which treatments work best for which types.

fBoyle
Post 2

@SarahGen-- Calm down. Don't jump to conclusions just yet. Many people experience headaches and migraines for a variety of reasons. Of course, this symptom should not be ignored regardless. It doesn't hurt to see a doctor anyway. But most likely, it's a harmless headache.

I experience headaches from time to time. I tend to get them around menstruation time and they can last for days. When it first happened, I too panicked and feared the words. But it turned out to be headaches caused by natural hormonal shifts. Now I know to expect them and I don't take them seriously. Similarly, stress, vision problems and allergies can cause these types of headaches too. There are even people who suffer from chronic migraines for no apparent reason whatsoever. I don't think that anyone with headaches should jump to the conclusion that they may have cancer, absolutely not.

SarahGen
Post 1

I've been getting headaches basically every day lately. Sometimes it starts later in the day. Sometimes it's there when I wake up in the morning. It also occurs that I go to bed with a headache and wake up with one still there. I'm getting very worried. I hope I don't have brain cancer. I'm going to make an appointment with my doctor today.

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