What Is The Difference Between Benign And Malignant Conditions?

In the field of neurology and brain health, there are a number of tumours, lesions and growths that can cause pain and affect normal brain activity, most of which are observed and managed differently based on a range of different factors.

These are known as benign and malignant brain conditions and are often treated very differently from each other, with some conditions not receiving any treatment at all, whilst others require a very rapid response.

What is the difference between different conditions, why are some conditions not treated and how has gamma knife treatment fundamentally changed certain conditions, such as acoustic neuroma treatment?

Benign Vs Malignant Conditions

Most lesions, tumours and growths are graded based on their potential to spread, their present danger and how quickly they grow, with these elements affecting which treatment paths are available to a patient and in some cases whether treatment is possible at all.

Lesions and tumours that are benign are those that grow pretty slowly, do not spread away from the initial growth area and usually do not come back if they are entirely removed. This does not mean they are not serious, and in many cases, they can cause painful symptoms.

On the other hand, malignant tumours are cancerous tumours that grow quickly, can spread to different parts of the body and can be very difficult to treat, especially if not caught quickly

Why Were Some Tumours Not Treated?

Before the advent of more advanced targeted radiotherapy, some benign tumours and lesions were left untreated because of the risks inherent in brain surgery.

Due to the potential for complications, neurosurgery had enough of a risk that it was only used when the risk of the disease outweighed the risk of surgery, and where there is a certainty that the whole tumour can be removed and thus there is no risk of the tumour growing back.

This meant that for benign tumours where there was a low enough risk that observation was an option, or for tumours so fast-spreading and malignant that surgical intervention may not help, other treatments are attempted instead.

However, the rise of radiotherapy has helped to fundamentally change how some conditions are treated.

The Rise Of Radiotherapy

In 1951, Swedish neurosurgeon Lars Leksell pioneered stereotactic radiosurgery, more commonly known as Gamma Knife treatment, which allowed for accurate and precise doses of radiation to be used to target and destroy lesions whilst destroying as little healthy tissue as possible.

This treatment, which did not require any surgery, helped to transform the treatments of benign tumours such as acoustic neuromas and pituitary adenomas, not only because it could help to effectively control the growth of abnormal cells but in some cases could reduce the need for surgery at all.

This can also be used to reduce potential complications involved with certain types of neurological conditions and allows surgeons the option of removing most of the tumour safely whilst destroying the rest with careful use of stereotactic radiosurgery, a treatment that has a far shorter recovery time.