A brain tumour is a group (mass) of abnormal cells that start in the brain. Brain tumours can destroy brain cells. Tumours can occur at any age. Many tumours are more common at a certain age. In general, brain tumours in children are very rare.
The cause of primary brain tumours is unknown. Primary brain tumours may be:
- Not cancerous (benign)
- Invasive (spread to nearby areas)
- Cancerous (malignant)
Brain tumours are classified based on:
- The exact site of the tumour
- The type of tissue involved
- Whether it is cancerous
In the case of paediatric tumours, there are a few common ones which are:
- Astrocytomas: These are usually noncancerous, slow-growing tumours. They commonly develop in children ages 5 to 8. Also called low-grade gliomas, these are the most common brain tumours in children.
- Medulloblastoma: These are the most common type of childhood brain cancer. Most medulloblastomas occur before age 10.
- Ependymomas: These are a type of childhood brain tumour that can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). The location and type of ependymoma determine the type of therapy needed to control the tumour.
- Brainstem Gliomas: These are very rare tumours that occur almost only in children. The average age at which they develop is about 6. The tumour may grow very large before causing symptoms.
Symptoms may be subtle and only gradually become worse, or they may occur very quickly. These are:
- Headaches are often the most common symptom. But only very rarely do children with headaches have a tumour
- Changes in personality and behaviour
- Unable to concentrate
- Increased sleep
- Memory loss
- Problems with reasoning
- Gradual loss of movement or feeling in an arm or leg
- Hearing loss with or without dizziness
- Speech difficulty
- Unexpected vision problem (especially if it occurs with a headache), including vision loss (usually of peripheral vision) in one or both eyes, or double vision
- Problems with balance
- Weakness or numbness
Treatment depends on the size and type of tumour and the child's general health. The goals of treatment may be to cure the tumour, relieve symptoms, and improve brain function or the child's comfort.
Surgery is needed for most primary brain tumours. Some tumours may be completely removed. In cases where the tumour cannot be removed, surgery may help reduce pressure and relieve symptoms. Chemotherapy or radiation therapy may be used for certain tumours.
The following are treatments for specific types of tumours:
- Astrocytoma: Surgery to remove the tumour is the main treatment. Chemotherapy or radiation therapy may also be necessary.
- Brainstem Gliomas: Surgery is usually not possible because of the tumour’s location deep in the brain. Radiation is used to shrink the tumour and prolong life.
- Ependymomas: Treatment includes surgery. Radiation and chemotherapy may be necessary.
- Medulloblastomas: Surgery alone does not cure this type of tumour. Chemotherapy with or without radiation is often used in combination with surgery.
Medicines used to treat primary brain tumours in children include:
- Corticosteroids to reduce brain swelling
- Diuretics (water pills) to reduce brain swelling and pressure
- Anticonvulsants to reduce or prevent seizures
- Pain medicines
- Comfort measures, safety measures, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and other such steps may be required to improve quality of life.
KIMS’ core team of paediatric-trained Brain Tumour Specialist team delivers optimal treatment and kid-friendly care, with the goal of preserving and improving your child’s quality of life. In addition to the core Neuro-Oncology team members, we also work with specialists from endocrinology, neuropsychology, rehabilitation medicine, ophthalmology, radiology, nutrition, and counselling to provide optimal care. Such comprehensive care means more time at home and less time in the hospital for your child.