Two years ago, Ben Brabyn, a forty year old former British Royal Marine and investment banker turned entrepreneur, visited his doctor with headaches that another doctor had diagnosed as sinusitis. The second doctor suspected a brain tumour and immediately called for an ambulance to take Ben to Charing Cross Hospital, London. Scans showed a fist-sized tumor on the right side of his forehead, see above. Undetected, Ben's tumor could have killed him within days
Any brain tumor is serious and life-threatening because of its invasive nature in the limited space of the intracranial cavity. The threat a brain tumor poses depends on its type, invasiveness, location, size and the state of its development. A tumor may be particularly deadly because it can push against or invade important parts of the brain, as well as cause a lot of swelling that can result in blackouts, fits and other serious health challenges.
Within hours of being admitted to hospital, surgeons removed a large panel of bone over Ben's right eye and excised his tumor, which turned out to be a benign meningioma. Most meningiomas are benign and tend to be more common in middle-aged or elderly women than in men. Ben is now fully recovered.
Brain tumor deaths are increasing
Each year, around 165 million people in Europe are affected by some form of brain-related disorder, which suggests that almost every family in Europe is likely to be affected. Not everyone however will be as lucky as Ben Brabyn.
In the US, over 688,000 people are living with primary brain tumors, some 138,000 are malignant and about 550,000 are non-malignant. Since 2004 the incidence of brain tumors in the US has increased by 10%. In 2013 in the US, an estimated 70,000 new cases of primary brain tumors are expected to be diagnosed. In 2012 an estimated 13,700 deaths were attributed to primary brain tumours.
Brain tumors are the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in American children. In 2013, approximately 4,300 Americans younger than 20 will be diagnosed with primary brain tumors.
In the UK the situation is equally bleak. Over 9,000 people are diagnosed with brain and spinal cord cancer annually and it kills nearly 5,000. Over the past decade there has been a 16% increase in brain tumor deaths. The largest group of primary brain tumors is gliomas; a broad term that includes all tumours arising from the gluey supportive tissue of the brain. These make up 30% of all brain and spinal cord tumors and 80% of malignant brain tumours.