A pediatric brain tumor refers to the abnormal growth of tissues in a child’s brain. They can be cancerous or non cancerous.
What should you know about pediatric brain tumors?
Pediatric brain tumors can develop as a mass of abnormal cells in any part of a child’s brain. Several factors can influence the treatment and outcome of pediatric brain tumors. These are:
- Location of the brain tumor
- Whether the tumor is cancerous or not
- Size of the tumor
- Age of the child
Brain tumors in children are treatable, and these treatments are different from brain tumor treatment options in adults. Sometimes the tumors may cause long-term implications because of their presence in specific locations in the brain.
What are the symptoms and causes of pediatric brain tumors?
Any abnormal tissue growth in the brain results in a rise in the pressure inside the brain. Intracranial pressure can rise because of tumors and there can be a blocking of normal flow of fluid in the brain. Symptoms of pediatric brain tumors include:
- Severe and frequent headache
- Feeling of increased pressure on the head
- Nausea and vomiting
- Enlargement of the head in infants
- Loss of sensation or weakness in different parts of the body
- Difficulty speaking
- Lack of proper coordination of movements
- Abrupt visual disturbances
- A fuller soft spot (fontanel) on the skull of babies
- Personality or behavior changes
- Slurred speech
- Abnormal eye movement
- Trouble swallowing
- Loss of appetite in babies or difficulty in feeding
- Trouble walking
- Irritability, confusion
- Weakness or drooping on one side on the face
- Memory problems
- Hearing problems
Failure or absence of proper treatment may lead to coma or death. Depending upon the location of a tumor, there can be other symptoms. A child’s movement or coordination can be affected if the tumor is at the back of the head. Similarly, visual disturbances are possible if the tumor is near the optic pathway.
What conditions can increase the risk of pediatric brain tumors?
The exact cause of brain tumors in children may not be clear. However, family history and genetic factors may increase the risk of pediatric brain tumors. The following genetic disorders can make a child more vulnerable to brain tumors:
- Neurofibromatosis: A condition that causes tumors in nerve tissues
- Von Hippel-Lindau disease – Genetic disorder that involves the formation of cysts or tumors anywhere in the body
- Li-Fraumeni syndrome – It increases the possibility of cancer in children
- Hereditary retinoblastoma – A hereditary condition that may cause cancer
- Tuberous sclerosis – A genetic disorder that can cause benign tumors in the brain and elsewhere in the body
When to see a doctor for pediatric brain tumors?
Most symptoms of brain tumors are confusing as these can be present in several diseases and disorders. Visit a doctor as soon as possible if you find the symptoms are severe and are causing a drastic effect on a child’s general well-being and development. Pediatric brain tumors are treatable with early diagnosis and treatment measures.
MRI and CT scanning are vital tests for the detection of abnormalities in the brain. These tests are noninvasive. A doctor may need to sedate the child, as the tests require a patient to remain still during the imaging process. Studying test reports will help doctors plan the next steps, such as surgery, or to remove a sample tissue for further investigation.
What is the treatment for pediatric brain tumors?
Doctors have to consider the child’s age, location and size of the tumor, and other health parameters to decide on the line of treatment for pediatric brain tumors. Following are standard treatment options for a pediatric brain tumor:
- Surgery – Easily accessible tumors are suitable for surgical removal. Tumors should also be easy to remove, causing no damage to the surrounding nerves. The decision to operate and remove tumors requires a thorough analysis of all these factors.
- Radiation therapy – Radiation involves the use of high-energy light waves to destroy the cells of tumors. The procedure can be suitable for treating several types of pediatric brain tumors.
- Proton beam therapy: Available at only a limited number of health care facilities like Apollo Proton Cancer Centre, Chennai, proton beam therapy delivers higher doses of targeted radiation to brain tumors, reducing radiation exposure to healthy tissue nearby. This may reduce short-term and long-term side effects and may also reduce the chance of developing new cancers. Proton beam therapy is beneficial especially for children with some types of brain tumors a a child’s brain is still developing and specifically sensitive to the effects of even low and medium radiation doses.
- Stereotactic radiosurgery: This makes use of multiple radiation beams to give a highly focused form of radiation therapy to kill the tumor cells in a very small area. There are different types of technology used in radiosurgery to deliver radiation to treat brain tumors, such as a Gamma Knife or linear accelerator (LINAC).
- Chemotherapy – It may be helpful to treat brain tumors in children if the tumors develop because of cancerous growth.
- Targeted drug therapy: This therapy focuses on specific abnormalities present within cancer cells. By blocking such abnormalities, targeted drug treatments can cause cancer cells to die.
Pediatric brain tumors are more common than other forms of tumors. These tumors can either be non-cancerous (benign) or cancerous. The treatment options can cause long-term implications that may affect the neurological and intellectual functions of a child. Brain tumors are treatable with early diagnosis of the condition.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can a child with a brain tumor survive?
Most brain tumors are benign and may not be life-threatening. Advances in diagnostic procedures and treatment facilities offer a better chance of survival for patients with a pediatric brain tumor. Prompt diagnosis and treatment are essential for a positive outcome.
Is it possible to have a brain tumor with no symptoms?
Some tumors may not cause any symptoms, . However, a tumor may cause severe symptoms and a rapid deterioration of health after it grows bigger.
Is it possible to have a brain tumor if I have a headache?
Headache is one symptom of a brain tumor. Consult a physician if there is no definite reason for the headache and if the standard headache remedies are ineffective.