What Are Common Brain Tumor Symptoms?


People experiencing an unusual or particularly bad headache sometimes worry that this is a brain tumor symptom. Headaches are very common and usually don’t signal a serious illness – but when should you be checked out by a doctor?

We asked neuro-oncologists Lakshmi Nayak, MD, and Eudocia Quant Lee, MD, MPH from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Center for Neuro-Oncology to review the red flags that warrant a medical follow up:

  • Headaches that are new or worsening, especially in a person who doesn’t normally have headaches. Often they are worse when lying down and in the morning, or wake someone from sleep. They may include nausea or vomiting.
  • Persistent room spinning, dizziness or loss of balance.
  • A seizure or loss of ability to speak; double or blurred vision or vision loss; hearing problems. Gradually worsening weakness or loss of sensation in an arm or leg. –Personality changes such as emotional withdrawal or anger, or becoming easily confused.
Lakshmi Nayak, MD, of Dana-Farber's Center for Neuro-Oncology, reviews common brain tumor symptoms.

Lakshmi Nayak, MD, of Dana-Farber’s Center for Neuro-Oncology, reviews common brain tumor symptoms.

The takeaway message, Nayak says, is that “new-onset headaches requiring medical assistance in an adult without prior history of headaches, change in quality or severity of headaches, in conjunction with new visual problems – these would worry me. If someone says it’s the worst headache of their life, I would be suspicious. Also, if the headaches occur in someone who has an active cancer, those should be investigated further.”

Some brain tumor symptoms may mimic symptoms of migraine headaches, Nayak notes, “so that can be a tricky situation.” However, most migraine patients have had the problem since childhood and are familiar with the headaches.

A stroke can also cause similar symptoms, but usually a stroke happens suddenly and without warning, while signs of a brain tumor appear more gradually.

To rule out or diagnose a brain tumor, a person will undergo a neurological exam to test vision, hearing, balance, reflexes, arm and leg strength, and coordination. A CT or MRI scan is commonly used to image the brain for evidence of a tumor.

This information should be reassuring for people who fear the worst when they have a bad headache, because brain tumors are very uncommon. But if your symptoms resemble those listed above, see your doctor.

Make An Appointment

For adults: 877-960-1562

Quick access: Appointments as soon as the next day for new adult patients

For children: 888-733-4662

Latest Tweets

Dana-Farber @danafarber
After two relapses, Janet Sheehan went on a clinical trial for her #ovariancancer. After four months, her newest tu… https://t.co/J90vP9jtPV
Dana-Farber @danafarber
Going through #braincancer treatment at age 24, Alex Berking is experiencing a new connection to her late father –… https://t.co/VyyCrRV7US
Dana-Farber @danafarber
Some #cancer survivors report that they still feel tired or worn out after treatment is over. In fact, #fatigue is… https://t.co/qXl4JesneB

Patient and Family Blogs

Patients and families of patients at Dana-Farber often chronicle their own experiences with cancer.

Here are some blogs that you can follow.