Even the mere mention of brain tumours can send shivers down one’s spine. Moreover, trying to fathom its impact on a child can be too difficult.
Sadly, many parents have to face this harsh reality and watch their little ones suffer its consequences.
Experts say that the most prevalent form of solid childhood cancer is paediatric brain tumours, ranking second only to leukaemia in terms of causing malignancies in children.
Understanding this condition better can help parents deal with it.
Let’s take a closer look at paediatric brain tumours, the causes, symptoms and treatment of paediatric brain tumours.
What Are Paediatric Brain Tumours?
A paediatric brain tumour is an unusual growth of cells in a child’s brain. This abnormal growth usually starts because of changes in the genes of a brain cell. These gene changes cause the cell to form a tumour.
These tumours can appear from when a child is born until they become a teenager.
These tumours have two main types: cancerous (malignant) and non-cancerous (benign). The difference between them is important because cancerous tumours can spread more seriously, while non-cancerous tumours usually stay in one place and are less harmful.
Understanding these different types of paediatric brain tumours helps doctors figure out the best way to treat and care for kids facing these challenges.
Causes and Risk Factors
The exact causes of paediatric brain tumours are often not well understood, and in many cases, they arise sporadically without a clear explanation.
Here are some causes of paediatric brain tumour suggested by experts:
- Genetic Factors: In some cases, genetic factors play a role, and certain genetic conditions may increase the risk of developing brain tumours. Examples include neurofibromatosis, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, and tuberous sclerosis.
- Radiation Exposure: Exposure to ionizing radiation, particularly at a young age, is considered a risk factor for developing brain tumours. This can include radiation therapy for other medical conditions.
- Inherited Syndromes: Some genetic syndromes are associated with an increased risk of paediatric brain tumours. For instance, children with certain inherited conditions, such as Li-Fraumeni syndrome or Turcot syndrome, may have a higher susceptibility.
- Family History: While most cases of paediatric brain tumours occur without a family history, there are instances where a family history of brain tumours or certain cancers may contribute to an increased risk.
- Certain Medical Conditions: Children with certain medical conditions, such as immune system disorders or conditions that affect hormone levels, may have a higher risk.
Signs and Symptoms
The manifestations of a brain tumour in children can vary widely, depending upon factors like tumour type, size, location, and growth rate. Identifying these signs may be challenging as they can mimic symptoms of other conditions.
Common symptoms of a paediatric brain tumour encompass:
- Headaches, which may intensify in frequency and severity.
- Sensation of increased pressure in the head.
- Unexplained nausea or vomiting.
- Sudden onset of vision problems, such as double vision.
Additional signs contingent on tumour location include:
- A fuller soft spot on the skull in babies.
- Seizures, particularly without a history of prior seizures.
- Abnormal eye movement.
- Slurred speech.
- Difficulty swallowing.
- Loss of appetite, or in infants, feeding difficulties.
- Issues with balance and walking.
- Weakness or loss of sensation in an arm or leg.
- Weakness or drooping on one side of the face.
- Confusion, irritability.
- Memory problems.
- Changes in personality or behaviour.
- Hearing problems.
Diagnosis and Medical Evaluation
If the doctor suspects your child might have a brain tumour, they will recommend various tests to confirm the diagnosis and decide on the best treatment. Here’s what these tests may involve:
1. Neurological Exam:
The doctor will check your child’s vision, hearing, balance, coordination, strength, and reflexes.
Any difficulties observed can give clues about the part of the brain affected by the tumour.
2. Imaging Tests:
These tests help identify the location and size of the brain tumour.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is commonly used, and sometimes, special types like functional MRI or magnetic resonance spectroscopy may be added.
Other imaging tests may include Computerized Tomography (CT) and Positron Emission Tomography (PET).
If surgery is needed to remove the tumour, a sample of tissue will be taken for testing.
In cases where surgery might be challenging, a stereotactic needle biopsy may be done. This involves a small hole in the skull and a thin needle to remove tissue for analysis.
4. Precision Medicine Diagnosis:
Tumour tissue can be tested for genetic mutations and molecular details, helping tailor targeted drug therapy to the individual’s needs.
5. Tests for Spread:
If there’s concern that the tumour originated from elsewhere in the body, additional tests will determine its primary source.
Surgery: In treating brain tumours in infants and children, surgery is often a crucial step. Surgical removal, or at least a biopsy, is commonly recommended. The primary goal may be to remove as much of the tumour as safely as possible, addressing intracranial pressure caused by the tumour. In cases of low-grade or slow-growing tumours, surgery might suffice as the sole intervention.
Radiation Therapy: This therapeutic approach directs high-energy radiation beams at the tumour tissue and a small surrounding area. Certain tumours, like medulloblastoma, may necessitate additional radiation to the entire brain and spinal cord. However, caution is exercised when applying radiation to infants and toddlers due to the sensitivity of their developing brains.
Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy proves effective for various brain tumour types, particularly aggressive, high-grade tumours. Administration methods include:
- Oral pills.
- Intravenous infusion (IV).
- Injection directly into the cerebrospinal fluid.
- Injection into the cavity post-surgical removal of a brain tumour.
The versatility in administration allows for tailored treatment based on the specific characteristics of the tumour.
Support and Coping
Facilitate open communication among yourself, your family, and caregivers. Establish a sense of structure for both you and your child, seeking assistance when necessary. Tap into available resources such as counselling, reading material or interviews of other parents.
Knowing about paediatric brain tumour, the symptoms and treatment for paediatric brain tumour is crucial for early detection and better treatment. Recognizing symptoms, studying causes, and improving treatments are important. Working together to spread awareness can bring hope for better outcomes in children with this challenging medical condition.