Ask A Scientist

How do people get brain tumors?

Asked by: Lila Ingalls
School: Maine-Endwell Middle School
Grade: 6
Teacher: Mr. Wagstaff
Hobbies/Interests: Soccer & volleyball Family Information: Older sister & younger brother  
Career Interest: Pediatrician

Answer from Lina Begdache-Marhaba

Adjunct Lecturer, Binghamton University

Research Area: Nutrition and obesity, cell and molecular biology and neuroscience
Ph.D School:  Binghamton University
Interests/hobbies:  Tae Kwon Do, basketball, jogging
Family:  Husband, Ali Marhaba and two children Jade 15 and Rani 11

A tumor starts from one abnormal cell that multiplies uncontrollably. A cell is the basic structural unit of an organism. Although microscopic, cells control their own multiplication. The control machinery lies in it’s genetic material known as DNA. It is the cellular blueprint that dictates characteristics and destiny. When this blueprint is altered for one reason or another, the control mechanism is lost, the cell multiplies indefinitely giving rise to a tumor. 

It is believed that a small percentage of adult brain tumors are due to inheritance of a defective DNA which is passed down from one generation to another. However, the majority of incidences are thought to be linked to exposure to high-dose radiation and toxins that lead to changes in the cell DNA. Conversely, most children’s brain tumors seem to be related to a defective gene inheritance. Children who undergo radiation therapy for a brain tumor have a higher chance of developing a second brain tumor from exposure to the harmful radiation. Some of the brain tumor symptoms include cranial pressure, persistent headaches, vomiting, vision and speech difficulties and loss of coordination.

Like all tumors, Brain tumors are classified as either benign or malignant. Benign tumors are slow-growing and tend to be confined. Malignant tumors have the ability to invade the surrounding tissue or to travel in the bloodstream to other parts of the body to establish themselves, a process called metastasis. They are fast growing and, to accommodate the rapid-growing mass, they infiltrate and invade surrounding tissues. Unfortunately, malignant brain tumors may possibly reappear after excision. However, they rarely spread to other parts of the body.

A healthy diet can help ward-off brain tumors. Structurally, the brain is a well-protected organ. Among the vital protective structures is the blood-brain barrier. The latter is a meshwork of capillaries that closely controls entry of nutrients and repels toxins. Infections, inflammation and stress are known to disrupt the blood-brain barrier, which increases the passage of DNA-damaging toxins. Moreover, the brain is very susceptible to free radical assault. Free radicals are potent molecules that have the ability to either destroy brain cells or mutate their DNA, increasing the risk of tumor formation.  Consuming food such as colorful fruits, vegetables, seafood, whole grain bread and pasta provides essential nutrients to empower your immune system and prevent infections, thus averting disruption of the blood-brain barrier. Antioxidants such as vitamin C neutralize free radicals in the body; however vitamin E (nuts) was proven to be effective in protecting the brain against free radical attack. 

Last Updated: 9/18/13