Brain Cancer in Children
Brain tumors in children differ from brain tumors in adults. Although the primary concern with central nervous system tumors (brain and spinal cord) in both children and adults is that they will invade other areas of the CNS, tumors in children often have different causes and affect different areas of the brain or spinal cord. For instance, tumors in children are more likely to begin in the lower portion of the brain, such as the cerebellum and brain stem.
Brain Cancer in Children Risk Factors
Brain and spinal cord tumors account for approximately 1 out of every 4 cases of childhood cancer, estimates the American Cancer Society. Following leukemia, they are the second most common type of cancer in children. Although statistics vary, about 3 out of 4 children will survive for at least 5 years after being diagnosed.
Children are less likely to develop brain or spinal cord tumors due to external factors having to do with lifestyle or environment, but there are exceptions. In some cases, children who have leukemia and undergo radiation treatment may develop brain or spinal cord tumors later in life due to radiation exposure. The majority of childhood CNS tumors, however, are attributed to inherited and genetic conditions.
Most Common Types of CNS Tumors in Children
Some of the most common brain and spinal cord tumors found in children include:
- Astrocytomas – these tumors begin in glial cells called astrocytes that are located in the cerebrum. They may be malignant or benign.
- Brain stem gliomas – these tumors begin in the brain stem; about 10-20 percent of brain tumors in children are brain stem gliomas.
- Ependymomas – these tumors begin in the ependymal cells that line the spinal canal; these tumors usually stay contained in the spine and do not invade normal tissues.
- Medulloblastomas – these tumors originate in the cerebellum and are the most common type of childhood brain tumor.
Possible symptoms of brain tumors include:
- Loss of balance or trouble walking
- Vision, hearing or speech problems
- Headaches that go away after vomiting
- Sudden changes in behavior
- Fatigue or shifts in energy level
- Memory loss
Brain Cancer Diagnosis & Treatment
Preventing brain tumors in children is difficult because so few are caused by external risk factors. However, paying attention to the above signs and symptoms may help with early detection of CNS tumors. The primary means of diagnosis include physical examinations and imaging tests such as MRIs and CT scans.
Some childhood tumors can be treated with surgery alone, but tumors that have infiltrated other areas of the brain or spinal cord may require some combination of radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy.
To learn more about brain cancer in children, please review this guide on brain and spinal cord tumors in children from the American Cancer Society.