Brain Cancer In Children
Submitted by Nic on November 19, 2012
Brain cancer in children occurs when cells in the brain or spinal cord mutate and begin to grown in an abnormal manner, resulting in the formation of tumors. These tumors may begin in different areas of the brain and the spinal cord and are of different types.
The tumors may be either benign or malignant. Benign tumors do not spread to other parts of the brain but they do grow and exert pressure on the surrounding tissue. Malignant brain tumors may grow rapidly and spread to the surrounding brain tissue. The pressure exerted by tumors on the surrounding tissue affects the brain in different ways depending on the part affected. Both these types of tumors therefore, can cause symptoms and require treatment.
Brain cancer can occur at almost any age in a child although its occurrence in the first year of life is very rare. The symptoms of brain cancer in children can vary from child to child. They can initially be subtle and gradually worsen or they may occur suddenly.
Some of the symptoms include:
- Headaches: The most common symptoms, these can occur in different patterns. Some start on waking up and clear up after a few hours. Some may get aggravated by coughing or a change in body position. Some headaches occur while sleeping along with other symptoms.
- Seizures: This may be one of the first symptoms to appear
- Nausea and vomiting
- Unsteady gait and problems balancing
- Impaired hearing
- Confusion and disorientation
- Behavioral or personality changes
- Lack of concentration
- Loss of memory
- Sleeping for longer durations
- Problems with vision including double vision and loss of vision
- A gradual loss of sensation and movement in any limb
- Speech impairment
Brain cancers are classified according to the location of the tumor and the type of tissue involved.
Types of Brain Cancer in Children
- Astrocytomas - These are usually non-cancerous and most commonly affect children between the ages of 5 and 8 years.
- Brainstem gliomas - These tumors usually develop around the age of 6 years and may grow very large before causing any symptoms.
- Ependymomas - They develop in the ventricles of the brain and block the flow of cerebrospinal fluid.
- Medulloblastomas - The commonest form of brain cancer in children, they usually develop around the age of 5 years and are more common in boys than in girls.
The causes of brain cancer in children remain unknown although research seems to indicate that certain genes may play a role in the development of medulloblastomas.
Doctors make use of certain medical tests to detect a brain tumor in children.
The treatment of brain cancer in children should be undertaken early to improve prospects of a favorable outcome. Treatment will depend on the type of brain tumor, its size and location and the general health of the child. The goal of treatment will be to remove the tumor, kill all the cancer cells, relieve symptoms and improve brain function.
Surgery is required for most types of brain cancer in children. It may be possible to remove the tumor completely with surgery alone. Tumors that lie deep within the brain may be debulked, a procedure that involves reducing the size of the tumor, rather than removed surgically.
This is done to prevent damage to the surrounding tissues as well as to relieve pressure on them. This usually results in a lessening of the symptoms.
Treatments for different types of brain cancer are:
- Astrocytoma - Surgery is used to remove the tumor.
- Brainstem gliomas - Usually the tumor's location within the brain prevents the use of surgery. Instead, the doctor may use chemotherapy and radiation therapy to shrink the tumor.
- Ependymomas - Treatment may include a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
- Medulloblastomas - Since surgery by itself is not enough to cure this cancer, chemotherapy and radiation therapy are also used.
- Corticosteroids to reduce brain swelling - Dexamethasone
- Diuretics to reduce brain swelling - Mannitol
- Anticonvulsants to prevent seizures - Phenytoin
- Pain medication depending on the severity of the symptoms
More articles from the Health Articles Category
- Zurawel, R. H., Allen, C., Wechsler-Reya, R., Scott, M. P. and Raffel, C. (2000), Evidence that haploinsufficiency of Ptch leads to medulloblastoma in mice. Genes Chromosom. Cancer, 28: 77-81. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1098-2264(200005)28:1<77::AID-GCC9>3.0.CO;2-Y