Brain tumours result in more deaths of children than any other disease, including other cancers, and the five-year survival rate is under 20%, which is extremely low seeing that the survival rate for other childhood cancers can be up to 80% these days.
There are more than 120 different types of tumour, making brain tumours a notoriously difficult disease to diagnose. Unfortunately, the brain is still one area of the human body that has not been conquered, and this includes brain cancer.
It is a wonder then that brain cancer treatments have not really changed in the last 35 years and brain tumour research is woefully under-funded.
During this year alone, in excess of 7 000 children will be diagnosed with a brain tumour. Brain and central nervous system tumours are the most common cancers among children and death from brain tumour has overtaken death from leukaemia as the leading cause of death in children.
Childhood brain cancer is not the same as adult brain cancer; a child’s brain is still developing, so brain tumours in children generally appear in different areas of the brain than adult tumours and they also act differently to adult tumours. Treatment options for Childhood Brain Cancer vary and are generally influenced by the age of the child.
Most paediatric brain and spine tumours are primary tumours, meaning they originated in the brain or spine. Primary tumours are classified as “benign” or “malignant.” Both can be life-threatening.
A child’s body is still growing and developing so it makes the required cells when they are needed; when normal or abnormal cells multiply when they are not needed, it can result in a tumour developing. Tumours are initially diagnosed by how they appear under a microscope:
- Tumours with cells that are similar in appearance to normal cells are called “benign.”
- Tumours with cells that appear very different than normal cells are called “malignant.”
It can, however, be difficult to classify a brain tumour as “benign” or “malignant” based upon microscopic appearance because there are many other factors to consider.
Symptoms of a Brain Tumour
The following are the most common symptoms of a brain tumour, although every child may experience symptoms differently and symptoms vary depending on size and location of the tumour.
Many symptoms are related to an increase in pressure in or around the brain because a tumour can cause pressure on the brain, resulting in Increased Intracranial Pressure (ICP). This can result in the following symptoms:
- Vomiting (usually in the morning)
- Personality Changes
- Decreased Cardiac & Respiratory Function; and
- Eventually Coma If not treated
While one or two of the above symptoms do not necessarily denote a brain tumour, if your child has a constant headache for no reason, is constantly nauseous or vomiting in the morning, please take them to their doctor for a check-up – rather err on the side of caution!