​​​​brain tumour awareness month
October is Brain Tumour Awareness month. (Photo: Flickr roxy_weg)

Most people would admit to fearing the worst if they were to hear the words "you have a brain tumour."

But the neuro-oncology team at the Krembil Neuroscience Centre (KNC) is working towards changing our understanding of brain tumours, why we develop them, how we treat them, and giving hope to patients.

October is Brain Tumour Awareness Month. According to the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada, 27 Canadians are diagnosed with a brain tumour every day.​

Get the 101 on brain tumours

Not all brain tumours are cancerous (malignant), a brain tumour is any mass of abnormal cells that grow in and around the brain.

But benign tumours can cause long-lasting neurological problems such as blindness, facial paralysis or problems with walking if left untreated.

There are now over 120 different types of brain tumours that have been identified. As the discovery and understanding of brain tumours has evolved over the last decade, so have the ways in which we approach them and address the varying and individual needs of each patient.

For example, someone diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma – a benign slow growing tumour of the nerve that connects the ear to the brain – will need a different intervention and support plan than someone diagnosed with an oligodendroglioma – a tumour that originates in the cells that protect the nerve cells in the brain.

Keeping up with a rapidly changing field

It's for this reason that in 2010, KNC's neuro-oncology group reorganized itself in order to meet the needs of this diverse patient population. Clinics are now managed by brain tumour type: skull-based surgery, brain metastases, general neuro-oncology, Gamma Knife, and neurofibromatosis.

"By setting up the clinics this way, we are better able to meet the medical and specific psychosocial needs of our patients," says Dr. Gelareh Zadeh, neuro-oncology neurosurgeon, Chair, Wilkins Family Chair in Brain Tumor Research, and co-director of the Brain Tumour Bank.

"This decreases the amount of time patients spend going from clinic to clinic for various aspects of their treatment and allows them to consult with their entire medical team at once."

The KNC program is one of few institutions to take this approach in the management of brain tumours. But convenience for patients to go to medical appointments is not the only benefit of this system.

With Canada's largest number of brain tumour experts based at UHN, patients are also offered the chance to participate in a wide range of clinical trials to test new treatments or procedures for their condition.

The findings from these subspecialty clinical and research programs are helping the team determine the most effective ways to treat brain tumours and improve patient quality of life.

"Neuro-oncology is a fast changing field," says Zadeh.

"As we learn more about these tumours, we need our clinical practices and research to continually evolve to meet patients' needs. At UHN, I believe we have the right elements to make this happen."

Learn more about the Neuro-Oncology Brain Tumour Clinic, here.

*Thumbnail photo credit: Flickr Ben Heine.

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