Brain tumors are the most common solid tumors in children. It is the second most common cancer in children. Children of all ages could be affected. Boys are slightly more affected than girls. Brain tumors can be benign or malignant. With better awareness, early diagnosis and improvement in treatment protocols, almost 60-70% of children with brain tumors are becoming long term survivors. One of the most common tumors , Medulloblastoma has an excellent outcome.
There are different types of brain tumors depending on the age or location of the tumor. Some tumors are more common in younger age and some are in older age. Younger children below 3 years tend to have more aggressive tumors. The most common tumors are Astrocytoma, Medulloblastoma, Ependymoma and Atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor (ATRT).
Symptoms depend on the location of the tumor.
The skull has no extra space for anything other than the brain. As a result, as brain tumours grow and expand, they increase the pressure in this small space. This is known as intracranial pressure which leads to some of the symptoms like vomiting, headache etc.
Among the symptoms are:
Imaging studies like CT scan or MRI will confirm the location and extent of tumor. MRI is better option than CT scan as it gives more information.
Brain tumour type: Examining tumour cells (after surgery or biopsy) under a microscope can reveal the type of brain tumour and provide Doctor with information on how the tumour is likely to grow or spread.
The grade of a brain tumour refers to how aggressive the tumour cells appear to be. The more aggressive the tumour, the higher the grade.
In the last decade, treatment for paediatric brain tumours has advanced dramatically. Surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy are some of the treatments available. It is mostly a combination of surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy depending on the type of the tumor.
Surgery: The first treatment is usually to remove as much of the tumour as possible and relieve pressure on the brain. In general, the greater the amount of tumour removed, the better the chances of survival.
Radiation therapy: After surgery most of the tumors require radiation therapy except for small children below 3 yrs of age. Radiation therapy is precisely targeted and dosed to kill cancer cells that remain after surgery. Radiation therapy can sometimes be delivered to the entire brain and spine in tumours that have spread.
Chemotherapy includes drugs that kills the cancer cells and prevent cancer cells from growing or reproducing. It is not advised for all types of brain tumour. Chemotherapy is advised for some tumors like Medulloblastoma , ATRT or tumors in small children where radiation therapy cannot be given.