How Can Brain Tumours Affect Personality And Behaviour?

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Unfortunately, personality and behaviour changes are a common symptom of brain tumours. This is caused by the tumour pressing on the surrounding brain cells, and the exact nature of the changes can depend on the size and location of the tumour.

According to the Brain Tumour Charity, personality changes are most likely to occur when the tumour is located in the frontal lobe of the brain, because this contains the areas that regulate our emotions and behaviour. Pituitary gland tumours can cause changes in hormone levels that may also affect behaviour.

The shock and stress of being diagnosed with a brain tumour can also understandably lead to behavioural changes that are out of character for the person, such as depression, lack of motivation, irritability, and anxiety. Sometimes, changes may occur as a result of the treatment for a brain tumour, such as medication or radiotherapy. 

Common symptoms experienced by brain tumour patients include confusion and brain fog, loss of inhibitions or behaving in socially unacceptable ways, low mood and apathy, mood swings, difficulty in planning and organising, and difficulty in recognising emotions in oneself and others. Sometimes, a person may become aggressive or even violent. 

Brainstrust reports that there has been some new research into the correlation between radiation exposure and social cognition in brain tumour patients. The study was carried out by a group of researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center, New York. 

They noted that difficulty in social cognition occurs in up to 83 per cent of patients with brain tumours, but this is an area that has so far not been well studied. Social cognition refers to the process of navigating social interactions, such as interpreting emotions and social cues. 

The research demonstrated that the radiation dose to the amygdala (the part of the brain that processes emotion and memory) was associated with a worse performance on an emotion recognition task. 

The higher the radiation dose, the longer the response time to tasks such as recognising the emotional states on faces expressing six basic emotions including anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise. The study involved 51 patients with low-grade and benign brain tumours who were receiving radiotherapy. 

The researchers note that up to 91 per cent of people with brain tumours experience some form of cognitive impairment, and even mild cognitive dysfunction can lead to a worse quality of life. They also note that cancer-directed therapies, including radiotherapies, can cause further cognitive disruption. 

There has been extensive research into understanding and preventing radiation-related cognitive decline, but so far social cognition, which is important for the maintenance of social relationships, has not been widely studied. 

The researchers concluded that using radiation techniques that minimise exposure the amygdala could be helpful in reducing adverse impacts on their social cognition. 

There are various forms of radiotherapy. One of the most advanced techniques is Gamma Knife stereotactic radiosurgery. This involves directing gamma radiation beams through the skull to focus precisely on the tumour, and leave the surrounding healthy brain tissue intact.

The direction of the beams can be computer-controlled for the most accurate focus, and several beams are directed at once from multiple angles. 

Each individual beam is very weak, minimising any damage to the brian, but the cumulative effect of the multiple beams on the target results in an effective radiation dosage. Usually, the procedure does not need to be repeated, unlike some other forms of radiotherapy, and risks of long-term side effects are considered to be very low.

Addressing personality and behaviour changes caused by brain tumours depends on what is causing them. Everyone responds differently to triggers and treatments, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Some people find that counselling or talking over the situation with trusted friends or family members can be helpful. 

Some people may require medication such as antidepressants or tranquilisers, but this option should always be discussed with the medical team first. Some patients may be referred for a neuropsychological assessment to find out what might be causing the distressing changes.

Self-help techniques, such as taking gentle exercise, eating a healthy and well balanced diet, and making time to rest can make a difference. 

If you would like some further information about brain cancer treatment and Gamma Knife surgery, please contact Mr Neil Kitchen of Amethyst Radiotherapy.