Could my headache be caused by brain cancer?

Everyone has suffered from headache at one point and sometimes, we worry that it might be due to something sinister. Googling our symptoms may be unhelpful as the search makes us even more fearful. While a brain tumour can be an underlying cause of headache, other possibilities exist.  

What are some other causes of headache?  

Migraines: Usually throbbing, one sided, Migraine may be preceded by an aura. Auras are funny, unusual sensations experienced just before the headache e.g. flashing lights, funny taste in mouth, tingling sensation, etc.  

Cluster Headache : Attacks of unbearable pain, one sided and usually felt around the eye. May be associated with redness and watering of the eyes, runny or blocked nose, sweating on face.  

Tension Headache : Presents as a band-like tightness around the head. This may be triggered by stress, sleep problems, and caffeinated drinks.  


Giant cell arteritis : Here, there’s inflammation of the artery on the side of your head. It presents with severe headache, marked pain and tenderness around the scalp, and double vision or loss of vision in both eyes.  

Meningitis : This is an infection of the lining that covers your brain. It can present with excruciating headache, neck stiffness.  

Head Injury : Trauma to the head can lead to headaches. Other symptoms can be vomiting, loss of consciousness, seizures.  

High blood pressure : Uncontrolled B.P also causes headache.   

What if it’s a brain tumour?  

A brain tumour is an abnormal growth of cells in the brain, forming a mass. This mass or growth may either be one that spreads outside the brain or one that just remains enclosed in the brain. Either way, since the scalp is a rigid enclosure, a tumour in the brain presses on the other parts of the brain, causing symptoms.    

Symptoms that may raise suspicion of a brain tumour includes:  


  • Sudden onset of headache   
  • Sudden change in the pattern of headache  
  • Worsening headache, becoming more frequent and severe.   
  • Headache worse in the morning  
  • Unexplained nausea and vomiting  
  • Seizures  
  • Behavioural changes, e.g change in personality.  
  • Problems with vision  
  • Worsening weakness and paralysis of one side of the body  
  • Weight loss.  

A number of people may not have symptoms at the initial phase and in others, symptoms may develop slowly.  

What increases the risk of brain cancer?  

Age: More common in increasing age, however there are types of brain tumour that are more common in children  

Family history : History of family member with cancer may increase risk of having brain tumour. Also, some genetic conditions increase the risk for brain cancer.  

Radiation : Exposure to radiation puts one at risk of developing this tumour.  

How will the headaches be treated?  

Treatment depends on the type of headache. A simple pain reliever may be prescribed. Where symptoms persists and are really troubling, a doctor may add other agents to help relieve the headache. The doctor may also run other tests.  

If a brain tumour is diagnosed and/or confirmed, type of treatment will be determined by:  

  • Age of the patient  
  • Type of tumour  
  • Site of tumour and site  
  • Spread to other sites  
  • General state of health and fitness.  

Treatment may include: medications to help with symptoms, steroids, surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy.  

When to see a Dr  


There are many causes of a headache and it is rarely caused by a tumour. It is however important to visit a doctor if you have symptoms that are similar to the ones discussed above. If you are worried or anxious about your symptoms, you can also go to the clinic. It may not be a tumour, but the doctor will help identify the cause of your headache and recommend treatment. This can also help reassure and put you at ease.  

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