Tumor Headaches

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last review date: November 2010

Headaches that aren’t caused by an underlying condition are called primary headaches. That means there is no other disorder to blame for the pain. Those headaches that result from another ailment or disease are called secondary headaches. A tumor headache is an example of a secondary headache since a mass in the brain is to blame for the head pain.

Although people with recurring headaches often worry if the pain is a sign of a very serious condition, most people with headaches don’t have brain tumors - which are very rare. Each year about 10 to 12 people out of 100,000 are diagnosed.

Those who actually do have tumors, report headache more than half of the time.

What are brain tumors

A tumor is a group of abnormal cells that form a mass in the brain. Some are benign and noncancerous while others are malignant, cancerous. Those tumors that begin in the brain are called primary brain tumors. Tumors that spread to the brain as result from cancer in another body part are called secondary or metastatic brain tumors.

Headache can arise from the tumor pressing on other areas of the brain, which can cause swelling inside the skull.

Diagnosing tumors

Doctors perform many tests to determine if a person is suffering from a brain tumor. Some of the tests and examinations include:

  • Neurologic exams to test mental function, reflexes, strength and alertness
  • Eye exam to look for swelling that may result from tumors pressing against the nerves of the eyes
  • CT scan, also called a CAT scan
  • MRI, magnetic resonance imaging, uses a magnet to take pictures of the brain
  • Skull X-ray
  • Angiogram or arteriogram, are X-rays taken after a dye has been injected into an artery
  • Myelogram, an X-ray of the spine taken after dye is injected into the spinal fluid

Possible symptoms of tumor headaches

People may experience different types of symptoms, including:

  • Dull, aching head pain similar to a tension headache
  • Throbbing headache, similar to a migraine
  • Symptoms of migraine with aura
  • Headaches that get worse over time, sometimes months
  • Pain in the early morning
  • Headaches that occur while sleeping
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Difficulty thinking
  • Difficulty speaking or finding the correct words
  • Double vision
  • Hearing loss
  • Weakness or paralysis in one part or on one side of the body
  • Numbness
  • Change in headache pattern
  • Change in memory
  • Prolonged nausea and vomiting
  • Change in personality or thinking
  • Headache that doesn’t get better with treatment
  • Worse pain with coughing, exertion, sneezing or bending over
  • Seizures
  • Confusion and disorientation

Many of these symptoms occur with other types of headaches. The best way to determine if a headache is the result of a more serious disorder is to see a doctor. Your physician can diagnose migraines or other headache disorders, as well as run different tests to determine if there is in fact something more serious to blame.

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.