Recurrent headaches can be caused by a brain tumor, although this type of head pain is much more likely to be caused by inflammation, dehydration, nerve compression, eye strain or stress. Many healthy adults experience headaches from time to time, and the pain is rarely associated with a tumor. With that said, it can still be beneficial to have an oncologist evaluate recurrent symptoms that do not follow a specific pattern or do not improve with routine treatment (e.g., over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).
What does a brain tumor headache feel like?
For most individuals, a brain tumor headache is localized to a specific area and is typically worse in the early morning or at night. They can be dull, pressure-like headaches that are made worse by coughing or sneezing. Over time, these headaches stop responding to over-the-counter medication.
Symptoms of a brain tumor headache
When brain tumors cause pain, the discomfort is usually a result of a tumor pressing on a nearby nerve or nerve roots. While the brain itself cannot feel pain, inflammation and nerve root compression can lead to a number of uncomfortable symptoms. Brain tumor-related headaches are typically accompanied by one or more neurological complications, including:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Blurred vision
- Weakness or paralysis
- Speech impairment
- Memory loss
- Confusion, disorientation or sudden personality changes
Treatment for brain tumor headaches
Treating a brain tumor headache is different from a tension headache or migraine, as the pain originates from the tumor pressing on sensitive blood vessels and nerves in the brain or because the tumor is affecting the flow of cerebrospinal (CSF) fluid in the brain. Over-the-counter pain relievers may not respond to these types of headaches, which is why steroids are often the recommended treatment. Steroids can reduce swelling in the brain, targeting the cause behind the brain tumor headache. A patient should talk to their doctor about steroids to help with headaches and alert him or her right away if the medication stops working
Moffitt Cancer Center’s approach to brain tumors
Individuals who are experiencing potential symptoms of brain cancer can turn to Moffitt Cancer Center for clinical assessments and diagnostic testing. Our Neuro-Oncology Program facilitates a comprehensive range of imaging scans, lab tests and neurological evaluations in a single location, alongside advanced brain tumor treatments and supportive care services. Additionally, referrals are not required to consult with a member of our team.