Brain Tumors Children

Brain tumors are the second most common cancer during childhood—second only to leukemia—and the most common variety of solid tumors in children. According to the Mayo Clinic, in the United States, 2,000 children (under age 16) are diagnosed with a brain tumor each year.

Childhood Brain Tumors

The majority of pediatric brain tumors are classified as primary tumors, or tumors that begin in the brain. Although primary tumors usually don’t spread beyond the spinal cord and brain, they can cause significant side effects when the mass presses on vital tissues and structures in the brain.

Gliomas, brain tumors originating in the supportive glial cells, account for half of all childhood brain tumors. Other common types of pediatric brain tumors include:

  • Medulloblastomas: These account for 20 percent of all childhood brain tumors. Medulloblastomas originate in the cerebellum and are the most common type of malignant pediatric brain tumors. They affect boys more often than girls, mostly from ages 2 to 7.
  • Brain stem gliomas: These account for 10 to 15 percent of all childhood brain tumors. Brain stem gliomas usually affect children between 5 and 10 years old. Surgery is usually not an option due to the location of the tumor; treatment plans usually include radiation and chemotherapy.
  • Cerebellar astrocytomas: These comprise 15 to 20 percent of pediatric brain tumors. These astrocytomas are benign tumors arising from the glial cells in the cerebellum, and they affect children and adolescents of all ages.
  • Ependymomas: Ependymomas represent 8 to 10 percent of pediatric brain tumors. These gliomas occur at any age during childhood and begin in the cells lining the cerebral ventricles.

Brain Tumor Treatment in Children

With respect to treatment for brain tumors, children often have the same options as adults. However, the child’s age is very important in determining which combination and series of procedures will be used. As with adult tumors, the type of treatment also depends on the type and location of the tumor and the health of the patient. Brain tumor treatment options include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery.

Because a child’s brain is still developing and growing, radiation is not generally an optimal treatment for children. During radiation therapy, high energy rays directed from a large machine target and kill tumor cells. The child must sit absolutely still for these treatments or be placed in a metal frame to hold the head in place. Both healthy and tumor cells are affected, which can lead to learning, developmental and memory problems after treatment. Neuro-oncologists are conducting experimental clinical trials to find different procedures that will either help to decrease or delay radiation therapy.

Chemotherapy, or the use of drugs to kill cancer cells, is a much better initial option for pediatric brain tumors. Wafers soaked in chemotherapy drugs can be placed directly on the tumor cells during surgery to stop cell division, avoiding some of the side effects associated with injected chemotherapy drugs. Researchers are also working to develop new drugs that may have fewer side effects.

Resources

Children’s Brain Tumor Foundation Staff. (2009). How are brain tumors usually treated? Retrieved April 29, 2010, from the Children’s Brain Tumor Foundation website: http://www.cbtf.org/learn/how-are-brain-tumors-usually-t.

Mayo Clinic Staff. (n.d.). Pediatric brain tumors. Retrieved April 28, 2010, from the Mayo Clinic website: http://www.mayoclinic.org/pediatric-brain-tumors/.

National Cancer Institute Staff. (2009). General information about childhood brain and spinal cord tumors. Retrieved April 29, 2010, from the National Cancer Institute website: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/childbrain/Patient#Keypoint4.