Exploring the Link Between Head Injuries and Brain Tumors

Did you know up to 3 million sports- and recreation-related concussions occur each year? Head injuries can have long-term consequences, sometimes leading to disabilities and death. There is also growing evidence suggesting that head injuries are a risk factor for developing brain tumors.

Understanding the potential link between head injuries and brain tumors is necessary for patient education and support, prevention management, early detection, and treatment planning. By the end of this article, New Hope Medical Center aims to expand readers’ knowledge of the mechanisms behind this connection.


What Is a Head Injury?

A head injury is any trauma or damage to an individual’s scalp, skull, or brain. Falls, vehicle crashes, sports-related incidents, and physical assaults are the most common causes. Head or brain injuries can range from mild to severe, with varying degrees of immediate and long-term effects.

a woman with a headache

The different types of head injuries include:

  • Concussion: This common form of mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) results from a blow to the head or a sudden jolt, causing the brain to shake within the skull. Concussions can lead to temporary loss of consciousness, headaches, dizziness, confusion, and memory problems. They can also make a patient more irritable, sad, or moody due to damage in the part of the brain that controls emotion and behavior.
  • Contusion: A contusion is a bruise or swelling within the brain tissue. It occurs following a direct impact to the head, causing blood vessels to rupture and bleed. Contusions can damage the surface of the skin and deeper tissues. They lead to blood clots and neurological symptoms, depending on the injury’s location and severity.
  • Skull fracture: A skull fracture is a break or crack in the skull bone. Although the skull is tough, a strong-enough blow to the head, such as in a head-on car collision, can fracture the cranial bones. The head injury can be mild, wherein the skull cracks but remains intact, or severe, where the bone fragments penetrate the brain.
  • Diffuse axonal injury: DAI is a severe form of head injury, wherein widespread damage has occurred to nerve fibers in the brain. The most common etiology of DAI involves high-speed car accidents. It can lead to a long-term coma, permanent paralysis, or severe and irreversible neurological impairment.

The immediate symptoms of a head injury may include headaches, dizziness, confusion, nausea, vomiting, loss of consciousness, memory problems, visual disturbances, and difficulty speaking.

Seeking medical attention following a head injury is a must. Proper evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment are crucial for managing complications. Case in point, in 2009, English actress Natasha Richardson died after hitting her head while skiing in Québec, Canada. She initially declined treatment. Shortly after, the actress complained of a severe headache. Richardson fell into a coma and died two days later.


What Is a Brain Tumor?

A brain tumor is an abnormal growth of tissue in or around the brain. Also called an intracranial tumor, a mass can be benign (cancerous) or malignant (noncancerous).

In 2022, the National Brain Tumor Society revealed the following approximations:

  • 700,000 Americans have a primary brain tumor
  • 28 percent of all brain tumors are cancerous
  • 72 percent of all brain tumors are noncancerous
  • 41 percent of all brain tumors emerge in biological males
  • 59 percent of all brain tumors emerge in biological females
  • 94,390 people will develop a new primary brain tumor in 2023

There are over 120 different types of brain tumors. Whether benign or malignant, an intracranial tumor can interfere with brain function if it grows large enough to impose stress on neighboring tissues.


What Is the Connection Between Head Injuries and Brain Tumors?

Researchers at the Cancer Institute of University College London (UCL) have made significant progress in understanding the link between head injuries and the risk of developing a brain tumor called glioma. A glioma can be benign or malignant.


What Is a Glioma? 

Gliomas originate from non-neuronal support cells of the central nervous system, known as glial cells. These cells, including astrocytes, oligodendrocytes, and ependymal cells, play crucial roles in maintaining the functions of the central nervous system.

Under normal conditions, matured glial cells do not divide, making them less likely to form tumors. However, recent discoveries show that brain injuries can trigger astrocytes to gain stem cell-like properties, allowing them to divide and form tumors.


Case Study on the Link Between Head Injuries and Gliomas

To investigate further, Simona Parrinello and her co-researchers from University College London (UCL) conducted experiments on mice with brain injuries. They devised a framework where the mice had a gene mutation associated with an elevated risk of brain tumors.

a scientist workingThe results demonstrated that combining a brain injury with a gene mutation increased the risk of developing brain tumors. Parrinello explained, “Our findings suggest that if, on top of those mutations, an injury occurs, it creates a synergistic effect.”

In addition to animal-focused experiments, the researchers analyzed the medical records of over 20,000 individuals who had experienced head injuries. They compared the rate of brain cancer among this group with a control group of those with no head injuries. The analysis revealed that individuals who had suffered head injuries were up to four times more prone to develop brain cancer. In hindsight, the overall risk of developing brain cancer after sustaining a head injury remains low. Parrinello’s research merely concludes that head injuries are a potential risk factor for brain tumor development.


How to Prevent Head Injuries and Subsequent Complications

Setting aside severe consequences like the possibility of getting a brain tumor later in life, even a mild head injury can affect how the brain works. Reduce the risk of a head injury by following these tips:a woman wearing protective gear

  • Wear protective gear, such as heavy-duty helmets, when engaging in activities with a risk of brain injury, such as cycling, snowboarding, or contact sports.
  • Promote safe driving practices, including following traffic rules, avoiding distractions like texting, never driving under the influence, and encouraging everyone in the car to wear seat belts.
  • Use proper safety equipment, such as safety harnesses and hard hats, in occupational settings that pose head injury risks.
  • Engage in regular exercise and physical activity to improve balance, coordination, and muscle strength, which can help reduce the risk of falls.
  • Ensure a safe environment by removing tripping hazards, securing rugs, and installing window guards and handrails on stairs.
  • Maintain a well-lit environment at home to enhance visibility and prevent accidents.
  • Educate others, especially children, about head injury risks.
  • Seek professional guidance to manage specific risks, such as assessing home safety for older adults or implementing safety protocols in the workplace.

The good news about head and brain injuries is that, more often than not, we can prevent them. As long as we understand the underlying mechanisms that may link brain injuries to tumors and follow these safety tips, we can minimize risks and protect our loved ones from accidental head trauma.


Alternative Treatment Options for Brain Tumors

New Hope Medical Center is a leader in the field of alternative cancer therapy. For non-invasive, non-toxic, and holistic cancer care for primary or metastatic brain tumors, schedule a consultation now to begin exploring your options.

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