Childhood Brain Tumor Assessment

A brain tumor is any growth of abnormal cells or the uncontrolled growth of cells in the brain. The tumor may originate in the brain (primary brain tumor) or spread to the brain from another part of the body. Tumors can directly destroy brain cells or they can damage cells indirectly by causing inflammation and compressing other parts of the brain as the tumor grows, by causing the brain to swell (edema), or by causing pressure inside the skull.

Childhood brain tumors are the most common solid tumors affecting children and adolescents, with close to 5,000 children diagnosed each year. Brain tumors in children can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous), with malignant tumors being fast-growing and invasive

The cause of primary brain tumors is unknown, but some tumors tend to be hereditary while others are congenital and were present before birth. The symptoms of brain tumors depend on tumor size, type, and location. Bad headaches and vomiting are symptoms with many common causes, but when combined with any of the other brain tumor symptoms increase the possibility of a brain tumor.

Take this quick assessment to learn the signs of brain tumors in children and help you determine if your child should be evaluated for a possible brain tumor.

What Causes Pediatric Brain Tumors?

Genetic predisposition, environmental factors, and exposure to certain toxins or radiation may contribute to the development of pediatric brain tumors. Conditions like neurofibromatosis, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, and tuberous sclerosis increase the risk of developing brain tumors in children.

Common Types Of Brain Tumor In Children 

Brain tumors in children can be categorized into various types, including gliomas, medulloblastomas, ependymomas, and astrocytomas.

Type of Brain Tumor Description Symptoms
  • Arise from glial cells in the brain.
  • Can be astrocytomas or oligodendrogliomas.
  • Often slow-growing but can become aggressive.
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Weakness or numbness in limbs
  • Changes in vision or hearing
  • Arise in the cerebellum, a part of the brain.
  • Common in children, especially in boys.
  • Tend to grow rapidly and spread to other parts of the brain and spine.
  • Headaches
  • Balance and coordination problems
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Frequent falls or stumbling
  • Difficulty with fine motor skills
  • Arise from ependymal cells lining the ventricles of the brain or the spinal cord.
  • Can block the flow of cerebrospinal fluid.
  • May cause hydrocephalus (buildup of fluid in the brain).
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Balance and coordination difficulties
  • Weakness or numbness in limbs
  • Arise from astrocytes, a type of glial cell in the brain.
  • Can occur anywhere in the brain or spinal cord.
  • Can be slow-growing or aggressive.
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Weakness or numbness in limbs
  • Changes in behavior or cognitive function

Treatment Modalities For Pediatric Brain Tumor 

Understanding the goals and potential side effects of each treatment helps healthcare providers and families make informed decisions and create personalized plans for pediatric brain tumor patients.

1. Surgery

The primary goal of surgery is to remove as much of the tumor as safely possible without causing damage to surrounding healthy brain tissue. Complete resection may not always be achievable, but debulking the tumor can alleviate symptoms and improve outcomes.

Potential Side Effects

Surgical risks include bleeding, infection, damage to surrounding structures, and neurological deficits depending on the tumor’s location.

2. Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing and dividing. It may be administered orally, intravenously, or directly into the cerebrospinal fluid (intrathecal chemotherapy). Chemotherapy can be used as a primary treatment or in combination with surgery and radiation therapy.

Potential Side Effects

Common side effects include nausea, vomiting, hair loss, fatigue, decreased appetite, and increased susceptibility to infections.

3. Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams to target and destroy cancer cells. It may be used as a primary treatment for tumors that cannot be surgically removed or as adjuvant therapy following surgery to eliminate any remaining cancer cells.

Potential Side Effects

Side effects of radiation therapy may include fatigue, skin irritation or redness, hair loss in the treatment area, and long-term effects such as cognitive deficits and growth abnormalities, especially in young children.

4. Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy works by stimulating the body’s immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells. While still investigational for pediatric brain tumors, immunotherapy shows promise as a potential treatment option, particularly for certain types of tumors.

Potential Side Effects

Side effects of immunotherapy can vary but may include flu-like symptoms, fatigue, fever, and autoimmune reactions affecting healthy tissues.

5. Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy uses drugs or other substances to specifically target cancer cells by interfering with specific molecules involved in tumor growth and progression. It aims to minimize damage to healthy cells and reduce side effects compared to traditional chemotherapy.

Potential Side Effects

Side effects of targeted therapy may include gastrointestinal issues, skin rash, high blood pressure, and liver toxicity, depending on the specific drugs used.

6. Supportive Care

Supportive care focuses on managing symptoms, providing pain relief, and improving the quality of life for pediatric brain tumor patients and their families. It may include palliative care, rehabilitation services, nutritional support, and psychosocial interventions.

Potential Side Effects

Supportive care interventions aim to minimize side effects associated with other treatment modalities and improve overall well-being.

Managing Pediatric Brain Tumor

Managing pediatric brain tumors involves a comprehensive approach tailored to each individual’s needs.

  • Regularly consult with pediatric oncologists and neurosurgeons for ongoing monitoring and treatment adjustments.
  • Follow the treatment plan prescribed by healthcare professionals, which may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, or a combination of these modalities.
  • Address symptoms such as headaches, nausea, and seizures with appropriate medications and supportive care measures.
  • Maintain a balanced diet to support overall health and aid in recovery. Consult with a dietitian for guidance on nutrition during treatment.
  • Encourage appropriate physical activity levels as tolerated, considering individual abilities and energy levels.
  • Seek support from counselors, psychologists, or support groups to cope with the emotional challenges associated with a pediatric brain tumor diagnosis.
  •  Attend scheduled follow-up appointments to monitor treatment response and manage any long-term effects or complications.
  • Be an advocate for your child’s healthcare needs, ensuring access to the latest treatment options and support services.

Remember, consult your doctor for personalized advice on managing pediatric brain tumors.

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