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Brain Tumors

What is a brain tumor?

Brain tumors are the most common solid tumors in children. Approximately 2,200 children under age 20 in the US are diagnosed with an invasive brain tumor each year. Brain tumors, either malignant or benign, are tumors that originate in the cells of the brain. A tumor is an abnormal growth of tissue.

A benign tumor does not contain cancer cells and usually, once removed, does not recur. Most benign brain tumors have clear borders, meaning they do not invade surrounding tissue. These tumors can, however, cause symptoms similar to cancerous tumors because of their size and location in the brain.

Malignant brain tumors contain cancer cells. Malignant brain tumors are usually fast growing and invade surrounding tissue. Malignant brain tumors very rarely spread to other areas of the body, but may recur after treatment. Sometimes, brain tumors that are not cancer are called malignant because of their size and location, and the damage they can do to vital functions of the brain.

Brain tumors can occur at any age. Brain tumors that occur in infants and children are very different from adult brain tumors, both in terms of the type of cells and the responsiveness to treatment.

Anatomy of the brain:

The central nervous system (CNS) consists of the brain and spinal cord. The brain is an important organ that controls thought, memory, emotion, touch, motor skills, vision, respirations, temperature, hunger, and every process that regulates our body.

The brain can be divided into the cerebrum, the brainstem, and the cerebellum:

Anatomy of the brain, child
Click Image to Enlarge

What causes brain tumors?

The majority of brain tumors have abnormalities of genes involved in cell cycle control, causing uncontrolled cell growth. These abnormalities are caused by alterations directly in the genes, or by chromosome rearrangements which change the function of a gene.

Patients with certain genetic conditions (i.e. neurofibromatosis, von Hippel-Lindau disease, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, and retinoblastoma) also have an increased risk to develop tumors of the central nervous system. There have also been some reports of children in the same family developing brain tumors who do not have any of these genetic syndromes.

Research has been investigating parents of children with brain tumors and their past exposure to certain chemicals. Some chemicals may change the structure of a gene that protects the body from diseases and cancer. Workers in oil refining, rubber manufacturing, and chemists have a higher incidence of certain types of tumors. Which, if any, chemical toxin is related to this increase in tumors is unknown.

Children who have received radiation therapy to the head as part of prior treatment for other malignancies are also at an increased risk for new brain tumors.

What are the symptoms of a brain tumor?

The following are the most common symptoms of a brain tumor. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms vary depending on size and location of tumor. Many symptoms are related to an increase in pressure in or around the brain. There is no spare space in the skull for anything except the delicate tissues of the brain and its fluid. Any tumor, extra tissue, or fluid can cause pressure on the brain and result in the following symptoms:

Symptoms vary depending upon which part of the brain the tumor is found. Symptoms of brain tumors in the cerebrum (front of brain) may include:

Symptoms of brain tumors in the brainstem (middle of brain) may include:

Symptoms of brain tumors in the cerebellum (back of brain) may include:

The symptoms of a brain tumor may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

How is a brain tumor diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination of your child, diagnostic procedures for a brain tumor may include:

Diagnosis of a brain tumor depends mostly on the types of cells in which the tumor begins and the tumor location.

What are the different types of brain tumors?

The different types of brain tumors include the following:

Illustration of the brain detailing common tumor sites, child
Click Image to Enlarge

Treatment for brain tumors:

Specific treatment for brain tumors will be determined by your child's physician based on:

Treatment may include (alone or in combination):

Illustration demonstrating ventriculoperitoneal shunt placement
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Long-term outlook for a child with a brain tumor:

Prognosis greatly depends on:

As with any cancer, prognosis and long-term survival can vary greatly from individual to individual. Prompt medical attention and aggressive therapy are important for the best prognosis. Continuous follow-up care is essential for a child diagnosed with a brain tumor. Side effects of radiation and chemotherapy, as well as second malignancies, can occur in survivors of brain tumors.

Rehabilitation for lost motor skill and muscle strength may be required for an extended amount of time. Speech therapists and physical and occupational therapists may be involved in some form of rehabilitation. More research is needed to improve treatment, decrease side effects of the treatment for this disease, and develop a cure. New methods are continually being discovered to improve treatment and to decrease side effects.

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