Brain tumours can be either primary (develop in the brain) or secondary (cancer from another part of the body spreads to the brain).
A primary brain tumour occurs when abnormal cells form in the tissues of the brain. Brain tumours are the most common type of tumour that develops in children, and they can affect children of any age.
The brain and spinal cord are closely linked and together they form the Central Nervous System (CNS). The spinal cord connects the brain with nerves in virtually every part of the human body. The brain controls many vital bodily functions.
More than 60% of brain tumours in children are located in the posterior fossa (the back compartment of the brain). The posterior fossa includes the cerebellum, the brainstem, and the fourth ventricle. Tumours in this area include:
- Medulloblastomas(also called Primitive Neuroectodermal Tumours, Or Pnets);
- Cerebellar Astrocytomas;
- Brainstem Gliomas; and
The remaining 40% of childhood brain tumours occur in one of the two cerebral hemispheres or in the spinal cord.
Tumours of the hemispheres include:
- Choroid Plexus Carcinomas
- Supratentorial Pnets
- Pineoblastomas; and
- Germ Cell Tumours
The most common tumours of the spinal cord are:
- Astrocytomas; and
One large family of tumours—comprising half of all paediatric tumours—are gliomas, meaning they arise from glial cells or the supporting cells of the nervous system.
Did you find the above information an overload of confusing medical terms? Imagine then if you would, how a child or the parents of a child diagnosed with a brain tumour feels…
These words become daily conversations along with all the other medical terminology such as those used in the diagnosis of a childhood brain tumour:
- Neurological Exam – your child’s physician tests reflexes, muscle strength, eye and mouth movement, coordination, and alertness.
- Computed Tomography Scan (Also called a CT or CAT scan.) – a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general x-rays.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) – a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body. A MRI of the brain usually shows more details of the brain than a CT scan, and is the diagnostic test of choice in brain tumours.
- Bone Scan – pictures or x-rays taken of the bone after a dye has been injected that is absorbed by bone tissue. These are used to detect tumours and bone abnormalities.
- Myelogram – an x-ray of the spine, similar to an angiogram.
- Lumbar Puncture/Spinal Tap – a special needle is placed into the lower back, into the spinal canal. This is the area around the spinal cord. A small amount of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) can be removed and sent for testing. CSF is the fluid which bathes the brain and spinal cord. There may be situations in which a lumbar puncture would be contraindicated in brain tumours.
This language is not one that you want your child to know or become used to, but it is unfortunately the language that parents of a child with brain cancer come to know only too well.