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Aphasia and brain tumour

In Australia each year, around 2,000 people are diagnosed with brain tumour, including brain cancer.

There are many different types of brain tumours.

  • Primary brain tumours start in the brain.
  • Secondary brain tumours spread to the brain from somewhere else in the body.

Brain tumours can occur in many different parts of the brain.

Communication difficulties are common in brain tumour. One type of communication difficulty is aphasia (a language difficulty).

Over 75% of people with a brain tumour report aphasia.

Aphasia can occur:

  • If the brain tumour is in the language areas of the brain, or
  • Due to changes in parts of the brain that are far away from the tumour but are connected to the damaged part of the brain.

Aphasia can be caused by the tumour itself, by oncological (cancer) treatment, or by neurosurgical treatment.

Language tasks that might become difficult can include:

  • understanding others,
  • contributing to conversations,
  • following conversations,
  • focusing on a conversation (especially in noisy environments).

Anomia is the most common language difficulty that people with brain tumours experience. People with anomia will often have trouble finding a word, even if they know what the word is.

Anomia can include difficulties with:

  • naming familiar objects,
  • recalling a specific word,
  • recalling names of family members or friends,
  • feeling that a word is on the tip of your tongue,
  • remembering the meaning of words.

Brain tumour can also cause other communication difficulties like:

  • slurring of speech sounds,
  • difficulty producing speech sounds.

Brain tumour side effects

Brain tumour and the treatment for brain tumour can make people tired, have poor concentration and difficulties remembering – these can all make it harder to communicate, and use language.

Brain cancer and seizures

Brain tumours can also cause seizures. Ongoing seizure activity and anti-seizure medications can cause side-effects, which can also affect language and communication.

Aphasia can change:

  • As the tumour grows
  • Following neurosurgery
  • Following other treatments

You can discuss possible changes with your oncologist, neurosurgeon, or speech pathologist. A speech pathologist can provide advice to help with aphasia due to a brain tumour. Some people may also benefit from language therapy. Speak to a speech pathologist or ask a medical practitioner for a referral.

Learn more about aphasia and epilepsy here.

For more information about brain tumours and brain cancer, visit the Cancer Council website and the Brain Foundation website.


Content contributed by: Dr. Sonia Brownsett, Aoife Reardon, and Dr. Emma Finch.
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