Brain Tumors, as the name suggests grow in the brain — an organ that controls everything from movement to emotion. Around 20 percent of all malignancies in patients under the age of 15 are either Brain or spinal cord tumors. They are also known as central nervous system tumors (CNS) and are the most common type of solid tumor amongst children.
Brain tumors can be malignant or non-malignant (non-cancerous). Brain tumors can be of several types. Some tumors get formed in the tissues and cells of a child’s brain are these are called primary brain tumors. In other cases, tumors originate in other parts of the body, spread or metastasize to the brain, which is quite rare but has been noticed in children also.
Germ cell tumor is a type of brain tumor seen amongst children. Germ cell tumor arises from germ cells. It will surprise some of you that these get formed into either egg or sperm cells at the time and stage when embryo is still developing. In the case of germ cell tumors of the brain, the embryonic germ cells have by mistake reached the brain, where they develop into tumors.
Germ cell tumors in the pineal region usually are accompanied by headaches and vomiting especially in the morning hours. Symptoms of tumors developing near pituitary gland are hormonal abnormalities, frequent urination, and thirst. Sometimes the child also undergoes behavioral changes and it also shows adversely in their school performance. Most of these tumors are malignant but can in most cases be cured with current treatments that may include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.
Astrocytomas are another type of childhood brain tumors that can be of two tpes – Low-grade astrocytomas and High-grade astrocytomas.
Low-grade astrocytomas are also a type of brain tumor, which may be cured with surgery alone if it is possible to remove them completely. If not, observation only may be considered. As an additional treatment radiation therapy or chemotherapy is used depending on the age of children.
High-grade astrocytomas are malignant tumors that have a much more guarded prognosis. Doctors generally recommend surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.
Another type of brain tumor amongst children includes diffuse pontine gliomas. Its a type of brain stem glioma a highly malignant astrocytomas which occur in an extremely delicate part of the brain. Surgery is not usually considered safe. Patients are usually treated with radiation therapy.
Ependymomas is the third type of children’ brain tumor whcih develop inside ependymal cells which form a lining in the brain’s ventricles. These are treated with surgical resection and quite frequently with radiation therapy. Children may also be treated with chemotherapy.
Medulloblastomas are tumors that, as per what doctors think, arise from un-developed stem cells in some part of brain, which controls voluntary movement, the cerebellum. Children can be cured if appropriate treatment is provided. Symptoms again are headaches and vomiting in the morning. It is diagnosed using CT or MRI scans and confirmed by a pathology tests after its surgical removal. Treatment usually includes surgery, radiation therapy (but in case of very young children), and chemotherapy.
It is a delicate task to remove brain tumor in a child whose neurologic development is still in progress. Chance of recovery of the child affected with brain tumor depends on a number of factors, including the type of tumor type, its location, and amount of tumor spread, or metastasis. The good news is that there are treatments available for all type of brain tumor. Doctors sometimes avoid radiation therapy due to the risk it may cause towards learning and memory problems in this age group below three years.
Chemotherapy is more frequently recommended for such young children.