With Senator McCain’s diagnosis of glioblastoma just announced, I think it will have each of us thinking about this unlikely condition and the possibility that we might have symptoms that suggest a brain tumor.
Patients often worry about such diagnosis when they have persisting headaches or strange head pains, but doctors know that such symptoms will likely connect to a brain tumor in only 1 or 2 patients during an entire 30 year career….in other words, headache is rarely a symptom of this condition.
The type of brain tumor Senator McCain has occurs 1 in 10,000 people per year, which makes it very uncommon, and although serious, it is a condition I have seen only rarely among my patients (5 times in 30 years so far).
Keeping a rational perspective about such conditions is important so that we don’t spend time worrying unnecessarily. I will often perform CAT scans for patients to eliminate their worry about such conditions, as it is just the ongoing thoughts that make them feel poorly. Having objective evidence that their brain is ‘fine’ is an immediate relief and also tends to resolve symptoms rapidly.
So….don’t worry that brain tumors are common….they are not. Like everyone else in the country, we wish Senator McCain the best in dealing with his health issues, but let’s not let us worry about ourselves too much in this regard.