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About Spinal Cord Cancer Tumors – Signs and Symptoms

About Spinal Cord Cancer Tumors – Signs and Symptoms

The Signs and Symptoms of Spinal Cord Tumors in Children

Spinal Cord Tumors in ChildrenTogether, the brain and the spinal cord—the sensitive column of nerve cells inside the vertebrae of the spine—make up our central nervous system (CNS). Cancers of the central nervous system, more commonly called brain and spinal cord tumors, are the second-most common form of cancer in children, after leukemia. Statistically, brain tumors and spinal cord tumors are often grouped together; however in reality, there are a number of different types of tumors of the brain and the spinal cord, each of which requires a unique treatment approach and carries its own prognosis (outlook).

Usually, abnormal cell growths like tumors are classified as malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous). This distinction is significantly less important for spinal cord tumors because (1) spinal cord tumors rarely spread into other systems like other malignant cancers and (2) malignant and benign tumors can be equally life-threatening. Whether benign or malignant, as the tumor grows, it places pressure on and potentially restricts critical tissues of the CNS. Thus, both malignant and benign tumors can cause similar symptoms and require an aggressive treatment approach.

Symptoms and Early Detection of Spinal Cord Tumors

Unfortunately, as with other types of childhood cancer, early detection of a spinal cord tumor is generally not possible. Unlike with some common adult cancers, there are no screenings or testing options to detect the early growth of a tumor within the spinal cord. For most children, detection and diagnosis come only after the tumor has grown large enough to interfere with the normal functioning of the CNS and begin causing noticeable symptoms.

Symptoms of a spinal cord tumor can—and often do—vary widely from child to child. Specific symptoms will depend heavily on where the tumor is growing along the spinal cord, how much it is pressing on and restricting otherwise healthy nerves and tissues, how quickly it is growing, and the age and development of the child. However, some of the most common signs of a spinal cord tumor may be issues such as:

  • Pain in the back or neck
  • Pain spreading from the back towards the arms and/or legs
  • Sciatica
  • Numbness, weakness, and or tingling in the extremities, particularly the legs
  • Changes to urination or bowel habits
  • Difficulty walking
  • Partial paralysis
  • Spinal deformity
  • Delay in reaching growth and development milestones such as sitting or walking

Spinal cord tumors in children are extremely rare, and many of these symptoms are also symptoms of common childhood ailments. However, if you notice these or other unusual health problems in your child, it is important to have your child checked by a pediatrician without delay. If your child’s pediatrician believes that these symptoms may be caused by a spinal cord tumor, he or she will refer you and your child to a neurologist and/or an oncologist for additional testing to ensure a prompt and accurate diagnosis.

About the American Childhood Cancer Organization

The American Childhood Cancer Organization (ACCO) is a non-profit charity dedicated to helping kids with cancer and their families navigate the difficult journey from cancer diagnosis through survivorship.  Internationally, the ACCO is the sole US member of Childhood Cancer International (CCI), the largest patient-support organization for childhood cancer in the world.  At the national level, the ACCO promotes the critical importance of ensuring continued funding into new and better treatment protocols for childhood cancer.  At the grassroots level, the ACCO is focused on the children: developing and providing educational tools for families and learning resources for children in order to make the lives of children and their families easier and brighter during this difficult time.  Many of our resources are available free of charge for families coping with childhood cancer.

For additional information on non-Hodgkin lymphoma and its symptoms, on the ACCO in general, or to order resources for you or your child, please visit our website at www.acco.org.

For more information about the American Childhood Cancer Organization and how we can help, call 855.858.2226 or visit:

Causes, Risk Factors, and Prevention of Childhood Spinal Cord Cancer Tumors

What causes spinal cord tumors in children?

i-KVDjmX3When we think of the spine, or backbone, we generally think of it as the part of the skeleton that enables us to stand upright and walk. However, the bones that hold us upright have a second, and potentially even more important, responsibility: protecting a delicate column of nerve tissues that carry messages between the body and the brain. These messages between body and brain are what enables our body to function normally.

Put simply, a spinal cord tumor is an abnormal growth of nerve cells inside the spinal column. For most people, however, the more important question is: what causes the nerve cells in the spinal cord to grow abnormally into a tumor? On-going research indicates that most spinal cord tumors are probably caused by mutations—or changes—to the genetic structure of the nerve cells. Certain mutations occurring within the genes that control cell growth can cause the mutated cells to grow abnormally. If the mutations occur in oncogenes, cells may grow and/or replicate too rapidly, while if the mutations occur in tumor suppressor genes, cells may not die at the right time; in both cases, the result is a clump of abnormal cells that will, eventually, become a tumor.

But what causes these gene mutations? In the vast majority of cases, scientists simply do not know why these gene mutations occur. In a limited number of cases, the mutation may be inherited from one or both parents; in most cases, however, the mutation is random—an unfortunate accident that occurs during the natural lifecycle of the cell—and cannot be prevented or predicted. There are very few risk factors and no known lifestyle choices that impact a child’s risk of developing a spinal cord tumor.

Are there any risk factors related to spinal cord tumors?

A “risk factor” is anything that may impact a child’s risk of developing cancer. There are very few risk factors associated with spinal cord tumors in children; as noted above, most cases are likely the result of random and unpredictable gene mutations. However, in some rare cases, gene changes stemming from inherited genetic syndromes may carry an elevated risk of developing a spinal cord or brain tumor. These inherited and genetic syndromes include:

  • Neurofibromatosis type 1 (von Recklinghausen disease)
  • Neurofibromatosis type 2
  • Tuberous sclerosis
  • Von Hippel-Lindau disease
  • Li-Fraumeni syndrome
  • Gorlin syndrome
  • Turcot syndrome
  • Cowden syndrome
  • Hereditary retinoblastoma
  • Rubinstein-Taybi syndrome

The only other known risk factor for spinal cord tumors (and brain tumors) is exposure to radiation. In children, the danger of radiation is especially acute because the delicate cells of the central nervous system, including the spinal cord, are growing and replicating especially quickly. Today, physicians understand the unique dangers of radiation exposure in children and care is taken to minimize exposure, for example utilizing radiation-based scans such as x-rays only when necessary.

In addition to radiation-based imaging technology, radiation can be a valuable and highly-effective tool to help fight other types of cancers. When battling childhood cancers, oncologists must weigh the potential benefits of radiation therapy with the risk of developing radiation-induced spinal cord tumors. For children under the age of 3, most oncologists will seek to avoid the use of radiation entirely if at all possible. For some older children, the life-saving benefits of radiation therapy may outweigh the small risk of developing a spinal cord tumor or other secondary cancer.

Can spinal cord tumors be prevented?

When facing the devastating diagnosis of a childhood spinal cord tumor, parents often need to know if there is anything they could have done differently to prevent their child from developing cancer. The answer can be both frustrating and reassuring. Spinal cord tumors are nearly always the result of random gene mutations and can neither be predicted nor prevented. The one exception may be, as noted above, the use of radiation to treat another type of cancer; however, in these rare cases, the choice to use radiation therapy was likely the best possible—and maybe the only—option to fight that cancer and save the child’s life.

About American Childhood Cancer Organization

American Childhood Cancer Organization (ACCO) is a non-profit charity dedicated to helping kids with cancer and their families navigate the difficult journey from cancer diagnosis through survivorship. Internationally, ACCO is the sole U.S. member of Childhood Cancer International (CCI), the largest patient-support organization for childhood cancer in the world. Here in the United States, ACCO promotes the critical importance of ensuring continued funding into new and better treatment protocols for childhood cancer.  And most importantly, ACCO is focused on the children: developing and providing educational tools for children fighting cancer and their families, empowering them in their understanding of childhood cancer and the medical decisions they must make during this difficult journey. All of ACCO’s resources are available free of charge for families coping with childhood cancer.

For additional information about childhood cancer or on ACCO, or to order resources for you or your child, please visit our website at www.acco.org.

For additional information about childhood cancer or on the ACCO, or to order resources for you or your child, please visit our website at www.acco.org , call 855.858.2226 or visit:

Spinal Cord Tumors in Children- Detection and Diagnosis

Detection and Diagnosis

child Spinal Cord cancerThe brain and the spinal cord make up what is known as the Central Nervous System (CNS) and together, they control nearly all of our body’s normal functions. The brain is composed of three major parts.

  • The cerebrum controls thinking, emotions, speech, learning, problem solving, and voluntary movement.
  • The cerebellum controls movement, balance, and posture.
  • The brain stem connects the brain to the spinal cord. It is responsible for autonomic functions such as breathing and heart rate, as well as the muscles and nerves that enable us to see, hear, walk, talk, and eat.

The spinal cord is the delicate column of nerve tissues contained within the “back bone”, the collection of vertebrae that protect the nerves. These nerves carry the critical messages between the brain and the body that enable the body to function normally and properly.

A spinal cord tumor is a growth of abnormal cells within the spinal cord. A tumor forms as cells grow and/or replicate too quickly, or do not die at the correct time. The tumor may be either malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous); however, this distinction is less critical when dealing with spinal cord tumors because both types of tumors can—as they grow—press on and constrict the healthy tissues of the spinal cord and impede their normal functioning. Thus, both benign and malignant tumors can cause similar types of symptoms. Usually, detection and diagnosis of a spinal cord tumor occurs only after a child begins to show unusual symptoms indicating a potential health concern.

The symptoms of a spinal cord tumor may vary widely from child to child, depending on individual circumstances such as exactly where the tumor is growing, how it is pressing on other nerves and tissues, how quickly it is growing, and the age and development of the child. Some of the more common signs of a spinal cord tumor may be issues such as:

  • Pain in the back
  • Pain spreading from the back towards the arms and/or legs
  • Trouble urinating
  • Change in bowel habits
  • Difficulty walking
  • Delay in reaching growth and development milestones such as sitting, walking, and/or talking

If you are concerned that your child is displaying these or other unusual symptoms, it is important that you take him or her to your pediatrician right away. Spinal cord tumors in children are very rare, and in many cases these or other symptoms may be caused by a simple childhood illness. However, if your child’s pediatrician suspects the presence of a tumor, he or she will refer you to a neurologist and/or an oncologist for additional testing to ensure a prompt and accurate diagnosis.

Diagnostic Testing for Spinal Cord Tumors

Usually, the process of detecting and diagnosing a spinal cord tumor in children requires several steps:

  • A physical exam and medical history: this will involve a discussion of your child’s general health and past health concerns and a physical exam to look for visible signs of disease such as a lump
  • A neurological exam: this will check your child’s mental status, coordination, and ability to walk, talk, and function normally. It may involve a series of questions and/or physical tests—depending on the age and developmental status of the child—to check brain, nerve, and spinal cord function.
  • Imaging exam: Physical and neurological exams will help determine if there is a health risk but will not provide any accurate diagnosis. In most cases, your child’s neurologist or oncologist will follow up all neurological exams with an imaging exam, which is the first step in detecting and locating an actual tumor. The most common imaging test is an MRI with gadolinium (also called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging). When injected near the site of the suspected tumor, the gadolinium collects near the abnormal cells, causing them to show up brighter in the image.
  • Blood tests: Along with imaging tests, blood tests can indicate the presence of “tumor markers”, or abnormal substances in the blood caused by certain types of cancers.

Whenever possible, final diagnosis will occur during and after surgery to remove all or part of the spinal cord tumor. The goal of surgery is to remove all of the tumor, or as much of it as possible. A pathologist will then examine a piece of the tumor under a microscope to diagnose the type and grade of the tumor. This diagnosis will determine the course of follow-up treatment to kill any remaining tumorous cells and hopefully prevent the tumor from re-growing.

In some cases, however, the tumor may be growing in an area of the spinal cord where it cannot be removed surgically without causing excess damage to nearby healthy tissue. In these cases, diagnosis will be made based on imaging alone, and a non-surgical course of treatment will be determined based on that diagnosis.

About American Childhood Cancer Organization

American Childhood Cancer Organization (ACCO) is a non-profit charity dedicated to helping kids with cancer and their families navigate the difficult journey from cancer diagnosis through survivorship. Internationally, ACCO is the sole U.S. member of Childhood Cancer International (CCI), the largest patient-support organization for childhood cancer in the world. Here in the United States, ACCO promotes the critical importance of ensuring continued funding into new and better treatment protocols for childhood cancer.  And most importantly, ACCO is focused on the children: developing and providing educational tools for children fighting cancer and their families, empowering them in their understanding of childhood cancer and the medical decisions they must make during this difficult journey. All of ACCO’s resources are available free of charge for families coping with childhood cancer.

 

For additional information about childhood cancer or on ACCO, or to order resources for you or your child, please visit our website at www.acco.org.

For additional information about childhood cancer or on the ACCO, or to order resources for you or your child, please visit our website at www.acco.org , call 855.858.2226 or visit:

Life as a Survivor of a Childhood Brain Tumor or Spinal Cord Tumor

After Treatment 

IMG_2186The central nervous system—including the brain and the spinal cord—grows and develops very quickly during childhood. This rapid rate of growth and development can make treating a brain and/or spinal cord tumor in children especially complicated for several reasons. First, the growth of the tumor can more easily damage the rapidly-changing tissues of the central nervous system (CNS). Second, the tissues of the CNS are extremely sensitive to the potentially damaging impact of chemotherapy, radiation, and other tools required to eliminate the tumor. These two issues are especially concerning when discussing survivorship issues for childhood brain and spinal cord tumors, and may have repercussions well into adulthood.

Generally speaking, most parents and guardians of children with a brain or spinal cord tumor have two main questions as they begin to look at their child’s life as a childhood cancer survivor:

  • Will the tumor return?
  • How do we cope with the effects of the tumor and its treatment?

Will the Brain Tumor Return: Developing A Survivorship Care Plan

Once your child’s treatment is complete and your child has been declared “cancer free”, most families are eager to return to “normal life”. Yet this sense of well-being and even excitement can be undermined by concerns about whether the tumor will return. The best way to alleviate these concerns—and enable yourself to enjoy a cancer-free life with your family—is to develop A Survivorship Care Plan. This Care Plan will carefully detail all the necessary follow-up scans and tests needed to monitor your child for any possible return of the tumor, as well as detect and manage potential late effects.

Although many families note an increased level of anxiety around follow-up visits, it is important to stick to the schedule of follow-up visits and exams as dictated by your child’s oncology team. These visits will likely include imaging tests such as CT scans or MRIs, physical exams, blood work and other tests to monitor your child’s short- and long-term recovery and watch closely for signs that the tumor may be re-growing. Your child’s specific schedule of follow-up testing will depend heavily on the type and location of the tumor and the type and duration of treatment; for instance, children who underwent radiation may require routine scans and follow-up visits for many years after treatment because of the elevated risk for secondary cancers.

Coping with the Effects of the Tumor and Its Treatment

Both the tumor and the treatment required to fight the tumor can have significant physical, emotional, and mental side effects, depending on the type of tumor and where, and how big, it grew before treatment. Some of these side effects may be very obvious, some may be much more subtle; some side effects may appear immediately, while others may not occur until years after treatment. Once your child has been declared cancer-free, your medical team will work together to determine the extent of damage to the brain and central nervous system and to analyze the potential effects of that damage.

Coping with the potential side effects from a brain or spinal cord tumor will likely fall outside the qualifications of your child’s oncologist and require the services of one or more specialists who can help mitigate and hopefully overcome any damage caused by the tumor and its treatment. Examples of specialists include:

  • Neurologist: A specialist in the central nervous system who can help identify and manage side effects relating to physical coordination, muscle strength, and seizures.
  • Ophthalmologist: A specialist in eye problems for handling any issues relating to vision.
  • Audiologist: A specialist who can address any issues relating to hearing.
  • A speech therapist: A speech therapist can address any issues your child may be experiencing with talking and communicating.
  • Physical and/or occupational therapists: Experts who can provide physical therapy to overcome muscle weakness, paralysis, or difficulty walking, balancing, and other movement-related concerns.
  • Psychiatrist or psychologist: A mental-health professional can be extremely helpful in diagnosing and documenting developmental concerns, especially relating to general intelligence, speech and hearing, memory, learning skills, and special educational needs.
  • Endocrinologist: An expert in hormone disorders who can help side effects relating to growth, hormone imbalances, and future reproductive issues. This type of specialist will be especially important for children with a tumor in or near the brain stem (at the base of the brain) or near the pituitary gland.

About American Childhood Cancer Organization

American Childhood Cancer Organization (ACCO) is a non-profit charity dedicated to helping kids with cancer and their families navigate the difficult journey from cancer diagnosis through survivorship. Internationally, ACCO is the sole U.S. member of Childhood Cancer International (CCI), the largest patient-support organization for childhood cancer in the world. Here in the United States, ACCO promotes the critical importance of ensuring continued funding into new and better treatment protocols for childhood cancer.  And most importantly, ACCO is focused on the children: developing and providing educational tools for children fighting cancer and their families, empowering them in their understanding of childhood cancer and the medical decisions they must make during this difficult journey. All of ACCO’s resources are available free of charge for families coping with childhood cancer.

 

For additional information about childhood cancer or on the ACCO, or to order resources for you or your child, please visit our website at www.acco.org , call 855.858.2226 or visit:

What is the expected life span of Childhood Brain Tumor Cancer?

Brain tumors

“What is my child’s prognosis?” This seemingly simple but critical question is often among the first that parents will ask their child’s oncologist after hearing that their child has been diagnosed with cancer. Yet while the question may be simple, answering it can be extremely complicated. In general terms, oncologists can provide statistics relating to 5-year survival rates for many different types of brain tumors in children. These general statistics, however, cannot predict an outcome for any one child. Each child’s individual prognosis will depend on the unique circumstances of their tumor and its response to treatment.

What is a 5-year survival rate and why doesn’t it tell the whole story? The 5-year survival rate refers to the percentage of children who live at least five years after they have been diagnosed with a brain tumor. As a simple statistic, it can provide some basic information about our ability to treat many different types of brain tumors. However, as with all “simple statistics”, it has three significant limitations:

  • It only takes into account children who were treated at least five years ago. It does not take into account significant improvements in today’s treatment options.
  • It can indicate prognosis for a particular class of brain tumors, but does not show differences in prognosis rates for specific tumor types.
  • It does not account for each child’s unique diagnosis and key prognosis factors so, as noted above, it cannot predict an outcome for any one child.

IMG_2106What are the key prognosis factors for childhood brain tumors?

As noted above, while five-year survival rates can be useful in general terms, each child’s prognosis will depend heavily on a unique assessment of her or her prognosis factors. These factors will impact the treatment approach and help determine your child’s potential for long-term survivorship.

Key prognosis factors for childhood brain tumors include:

  • The type of tumor
  • The grade of the tumor, or how quickly it is likely to grow
  • The size of the tumor
  • The location of the tumor
  • Whether the tumor can be removed completely with surgery (if at all)
  • Whether the tumorous cells have particular gene mutations
  • Whether the tumor has spread to other parts of the brain or spinal cord via the cerebrospinal fluid
  • Whether tumorous cells have spread beyond the central nervous system
  • The child’s age
  • The child’s functional abilities as impacted by the brain tumor

Unlike many other forms of cancer, brain tumors rarely spread to areas of the body outside the central nervous system. Instead, brain tumors can be life-threatening because of the damage they can inflict on the delicate and highly critical tissues of the brain and spinal cord. For this reason, doctors do not use two prognosis factors commonly used when discussing other types of childhood cancers: benign v. malignant and “staging”.

Five-Year Survival Rates for Common Types of Brain Tumors in Children

Based on information from the Central Brain Tumor Registry of the United States (covering children treated between 1995 and 2010), we can provide five-year survival rates for some of the most common types of brain tumors diagnosed in children. As noted above, however, it is important to remember that these statistics do not accurately represent the chances of long-term survival for any one specific child.

  • Philocytic astrocytoma: 95%
  • Oligodendroglioma: 90% – 95%
  • Fibrillary (diffuse) astrocytoma: 80% – 85%
  • Ependymoma (including anaplastic ependymoma: 75%
  • PNETs (including medullablastoma and pineoblastoma): 60% – 65%
  • Anaplastic astrocytoma: 30%
  • Glioblastoma: 20%

About American Childhood Cancer Organization

American Childhood Cancer Organization (ACCO) is a non-profit charity dedicated to helping kids with cancer and their families navigate the difficult journey from cancer diagnosis through survivorship. Internationally, ACCO is the sole U.S. member of Childhood Cancer International (CCI), the largest patient-support organization for childhood cancer in the world. Here in the United States, ACCO promotes the critical importance of ensuring continued funding into new and better treatment protocols for childhood cancer.  And most importantly, ACCO is focused on the children: developing and providing educational tools for children fighting cancer and their families, empowering them in their understanding of childhood cancer and the medical decisions they must make during this difficult journey. All of ACCO’s resources are available free of charge for families coping with childhood cancer.

 

For additional information about childhood cancer or on the ACCO, or to order resources for you or your child, please visit our website at www.acco.org , call 855.858.2226 or visit:

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Brain Tumors in Children?

Brain Tumors

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Brain Tumors in ChildrenWhen classed together in a single grouping, cancers in the brain and spinal cord are the second most common type of childhood cancer after leukemia. Brain and spinal cord tumors account for about 25% of all childhood cancer diagnoses, with more than 4,000 new cases diagnosed every year in the United States. In reality, however, it can be difficult to discuss “brain tumors” in general terms: oncologists recognize at least nine different sub-classifications of brain tumors in children, such as brain stem gliomas and ependymomas for example, with still more sub-groupings within those broad classifications.

Moreover, it is important to note at the outset that a variety of factors can impact both the initial indicators of the tumor’s presence, as well as the appropriate course of treatment, factors such as: the tumor’s location in the brain, the size of the tumor, how quickly the tumor is growing, and for treatment purposes, whether the tumor can be removed surgically. Interestingly enough, the one distinction that oncologists do not make regarding brain tumors in children is whether the tumor is benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Because brain tumors occur in such a vital and sensitive area of the body, both types of tumors can be life-threatening.

Keeping those caveats in mind, what are the signs and symptoms of brain tumors in children? In many children, symptoms begin to show slowly over time as the tumor grows and begins to press on specific areas of the brain. This increase in intracranial pressure can lead to general health concerns such as:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Crossed eyes and/or blurred vision
  • Balance problems
  • Behavioral changes
  • Drowsiness, potentially leading to coma

Of course, many of these concerns are symptoms of common childhood illness and may not be related to a tumor. However, should these symptoms persist and/or worsen over time, your pediatrician may recommend a visit to a neurologist or oncologist to conduct diagnostic testing.

One potential symptom—seizures—can develop both rapidly and unexpectedly. Should your child begin experiencing seizures, it is important to seek medical help immediately from a neurologist who can help determine if a tumor is causing the seizures.

In very young children, some additional symptoms of a brain tumor may include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Irritability
  • Developmental delays or a decline in intellectual and/or physical abilities
  • An increase in head size, especially if accompanied by unusual cranial bulging

In older children, guardians and teachers may notice unusual fatigue, personality changes, or a decline in performance or attitude at school.

In addition to these generalized symptoms, children may exhibit more specific symptoms relating to the location of the tumor within the brain. For instance:

  • Cerebrum (large, outer part of the brain): may cause weakness or numbness in a specific part of the body, usually only on one side; speech or comprehension problems; concerns about thinking, personality, and language skills; issues with vision.
  • Cerebellum: may cause problems with walking or other routine bodily functions
  • Basal ganglia: may cause unusual or abnormal body positions or movements
  • Cranial nerves (not located in the cerebrum): may cause loss of hearing, problems with balance, weakness of facial muscles, or trouble swallowing

Again, it is important to note that brain tumors in children are extremely rare and even if you notice your child exhibiting one or more of these symptoms, it does not necessarily mean that your child has a brain tumor. These symptoms can be caused by a wide range of different medical issues. However, it is important that you speak to your pediatrician about your concerns. He or she will refer you to the appropriate specialist in order to ensure that your child gets an accurate diagnosis and treatment as quickly as possible.

About American Childhood Cancer Organization

American Childhood Cancer Organization (ACCO) is a non-profit charity dedicated to helping kids with cancer and their families navigate the difficult journey from cancer diagnosis through survivorship. Internationally, ACCO is the sole U.S. member of Childhood Cancer International (CCI), the largest patient-support organization for childhood cancer in the world. Here in the United States, ACCO promotes the critical importance of ensuring continued funding into new and better treatment protocols for childhood cancer.  And most importantly, ACCO is focused on the children: developing and providing educational tools for children fighting cancer and their families, empowering them in their understanding of childhood cancer and the medical decisions they must make during this difficult journey. All of ACCO’s resources are available free of charge for families coping with childhood cancer.

 

For additional information about childhood cancer or on ACCO, or to order resources for you or your child, please visit our website at www.acco.org.

 

 

For additional information about childhood cancer or on the ACCO, or to order resources for you or your child, please visit our website at www.acco.org , call 855.858.2226 or visit:

Causes, Risk Factors, and Prevention of Childhood Brain Tumor Cancer

Why do some children develop brain tumors?

Why do some children develop brain tumorsAny time a child is diagnosed with a brain tumor or other type of cancer, the most obvious question many parents ask is “why”. What caused this child to develop a brain tumor? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question. Scientists now believe that the vast majority of brain tumors in children are the result of random gene mutations but have no satisfying answer as to why a particular gene mutation occurred or why it led to the growth of a brain tumor.

Whether benign or malignant, a tumor grows when certain cells grow, divide, and replicate more quickly than normal cells and/or they do not die when they are aged or damaged. These abnormal cells then begin to build up in the brain, forming clumps or a mass, and eventually growing large enough to press on or cause damage to the healthy brain tissue.

So why do some cells grow, function, and die normally, while others grow abnormally and develop into a brain tumor? Scientists currently believe that these abnormal cells are the result of mutations (random changes) within the DNA in each cell. Mutations in oncogenes inhibit when cells grow and divide properly, while mutations in tumor suppressor genes prevent cells from slowing their rate of replication and prevent them from dying at the proper time. Because mutations are a natural part of the lifecycle of our cells—occurring frequently as our cells grow and divide over time—preventing or predicting these mutations is currently impossible.

What are the risk factors for brain tumors in children?

A “risk factor” is anything that increases a child’s risk of developing a brain tumor. As stated above, scientists believe that the vast majority of cases of childhood brain tumors are caused by random gene mutations. Gene mutations are a natural part of human biology and usually do not have a specific or identifiable cause. Therefore, there are very few known risk factors linked to the development of brain tumors in children, with two notable exceptions. Those are:

  • Radiation exposure: Exposure to large amounts of radiation has been linked to several types of cancer, including brain tumors in children. While low-level radiation exposure is an accepted aspect of today’s medical care (x-rays, for instance, for dental treatment or to diagnose a broken bone), the medical community goes to great lengths to protect children from high dosages of radiation exposure.

However, radiation therapy has proven to be an effective tool when fighting some types of cancer. While most oncologists will limit or avoid altogether the use of radiation when treating very young children, in some cases, the benefits of treating the immediate threat posed by cancer must be weighed against the potential risk of developing a brain tumor or other secondary cancer in the future.

  • Inherited genetic conditions: In a very small number of cases (less than 5%), children have an inherited genetic condition that might potentially increase the risk of developing a brain tumor. Although these conditions themselves are very, very rare, some have been linked to an elevated risk for brain tumors:
  • Neurofibromatosis type 1 (von Recklinghausen disease)
  • Neurofibromatosis type 2
  • Von Hippel-Lindau disease
  • Tuberous sclerosis
  • Gorlin syndrome (basal cell nevus syndrome)
  • Li-Fraumeni syndrome
  • Turcot syndrome
  • Hereditary retinoblastoma
  • Cowden syndrome
  • Rubinstein-Taybi syndrome

 

Can we do anything to prevent a brain tumor?

Unfortunately, all too many parents—after hearing that their child has been diagnosed with a brain tumor—feel an overwhelming sense of guilt. Many wonder whether this diagnosis is somehow their fault, or whether they might have been able to do something to prevent this diagnosis. However, any oncologist will assure these parents that there is absolutely nothing they could have done to prevent their child from developing a brain tumor. Brain tumors in children are not believed to be linked to any environmental factors or lifestyle choices (with the notable exception of radiation exposure noted above); instead, they are most likely the result of random and uncontrollable gene mutations.

About American Childhood Cancer Organization

American Childhood Cancer Organization (ACCO) is a non-profit charity dedicated to helping kids with cancer and their families navigate the difficult journey from cancer diagnosis through survivorship. Internationally, ACCO is the sole U.S. member of Childhood Cancer International (CCI), the largest patient-support organization for childhood cancer in the world. Here in the United States, ACCO promotes the critical importance of ensuring continued funding into new and better treatment protocols for childhood cancer.  And most importantly, ACCO is focused on the children: developing and providing educational tools for children fighting cancer and their families, empowering them in their understanding of childhood cancer and the medical decisions they must make during this difficult journey. All of ACCO’s resources are available free of charge for families coping with childhood cancer.

 

For additional information about childhood cancer or on the ACCO, or to order resources for you or your child, please visit our website at www.acco.org , call 855.858.2226 or visit:

Childhood Brain Tumor Cancers – Detection and Diagnosis

About Childhood Brain Tumors

Childhood Brain Tumor Cancers Detection DiagnosisAfter leukemia, brain tumors (including spinal cord tumors) are the second-most common type of cancer in children, accounting for about 25% of all childhood cancer diagnoses. Brain tumors begin within the delicate and complicated tissues of the brain or the cerebrospinal fluid (as well as the spinal cord or central nervous system, as these tumors are usually classed with brain tumors in children). When dealing with brain tumors in children, oncologists rarely differentiate between benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous) tumors; all tumors in the brain can be life-threatening whether technically cancerous or not. Instead, oncologists usually focus on how fast the tumor is growing, how quickly or easily it may spread throughout the brain or spinal cord, and how easy the tumor is to remove completely.

Types of brain tumors “common” in children include:

  • Gliomas: a general term for a group of tumors that begin in the supporting cells of the brain. Gliomas account for about 50% of all brain and spinal cord tumors in children. Examples include astrocytomas, oligodendrogliomas, ependymomas, optic gliomas, and brain stem gliomas. Brain stem gliomas themselves account for about 10-20% of all brain tumors in children. Because they often grow diffusely throughout the brain stem, “diffuse midline gliomas” (such as diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas, or DIPGs) remain very difficult to treat.
  • Embryonal tumors: accounting for about 10-20% of all brain tumors in children, embryonal tumors usually begin in the earliest forms of nerve cells and therefore are more common in younger children. The most common type is medulloblastoma, but other forms of embryonal tumors include medulloepithelioma, atypical teratoid/rhabdoid tumor, and embryonal tumor with multilayered rosettes.
  • Pineal tumors: these tumors begin in a small gland in the middle of the brain—the pineal gland—and are very difficult to treat. The most common type of pineal tumors are pineoblastomas.
  • Craniopharyngiomas: about 4% of all brain tumors in children are these slow-growing tumors which begin between the pituitary gland and the brain itself. Because they often press on the pituitary gland, the hypothalamus, and/or the optic nerves, they can be very difficult to remove without impacting the child’s vision and/or hormone balance.
  • Mixed glial and neuronal tumors: these types of tumors, including dysembryoplastic neuroepithelial tumors and gangliogliomas, are generally slow-growing and have a fairly good prognosis when treated with surgery and potentially radiation.

Childhood Brain Tumors: Detection and Diagnosis

Unfortunately, as with all childhood cancers, there is no way to “detect” a brain tumor without formal diagnostic testing. In most cases, detection and diagnosis happens only after parents, guardians, teachers, or others close to the child start observing unusual medical symptoms such as frequent headaches, nausea and vomiting, vision problems, balance problems, or seizures. Because many of these symptoms are commonplace, a pediatrician may only suspect a tumor if symptoms continue over time or worsen, or in the case of seizures appear very suddenly.

Should your child’s pediatrician suspect the presence of a brain tumor, he or she will recommend a visit to a specialist, who will conduct a series of diagnostic tests to determine if a brain tumor is present. The first diagnostic test is almost always an imaging test, usually an MRI. Using a combination of radio waves and strong magnets, an MRI can create a series of detailed images of the brain without involving radiation (which is extremely damaging to the delicate brain tissue of children, especially young children).

While an MRI or other imaging test can indicate the presence of a tumor or other abnormality, a final diagnosis usually must be made through a biopsy. A biopsy involves removing some or all of the tumorous tissue and examining it under a microscope. In some cases, a biopsy may be done simultaneously with surgery to remove the entire tumor, or it may involving only removing a piece in order to determine the appropriate course of treatment. However, in some cases, the tumor may be located in such a sensitive or difficult-to-reach area of the brain, that a physical biopsy is not possible; in these cases, diagnosis must be made on the results of imaging tests.

Once the biopsy has confirmed the presence of tumor and identified its type and grade, your child’s oncology team will work with you to determine the best course of treatment for your child.

About American Childhood Cancer Organization

American Childhood Cancer Organization (ACCO) is a non-profit charity dedicated to helping kids with cancer and their families navigate the difficult journey from cancer diagnosis through survivorship. Internationally, ACCO is the sole U.S. member of Childhood Cancer International (CCI), the largest patient-support organization for childhood cancer in the world. Here in the United States, ACCO promotes the critical importance of ensuring continued funding into new and better treatment protocols for childhood cancer.  And most importantly, ACCO is focused on the children: developing and providing educational tools for children fighting cancer and their families, empowering them in their understanding of childhood cancer and the medical decisions they must make during this difficult journey. All of ACCO’s resources are available free of charge for families coping with childhood cancer.

 

For additional information about childhood cancer or on the ACCO, or to order resources for you or your child, please visit our website at www.acco.org , call 855.858.2226 or visit:

Gold Ribbon Hero – Pedro

PedroMeet Pedro, a 5-year-old warrior turning 6 this December. Pedro is one of three children in the Curiel family and is suffering from T Cell Acute Lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). He is receiving delayed intensification treatments in California with his mom and siblings by his side.

“The past seven months have been the most aggressive chemo then he will go to maintenance where every other week he will receive chemo and eventually getting oral chemo which is not as intense,” his mom, Vilma notes. Vilma said that he’s had muscular stiffness from the new chemo which made him unable to walk and he did not want to get out of bed.  “I think this is the most scary part of treatment. After 24 hours he started limping and getting back to his usual routine.”

pedro 2When he’s not receiving treatment, he is found drawing treasure maps around the house. Vilma said that he loves to draw these maps and hide his “treasure” and have his two brothers go find it! He started homeschooling in August, and he can now read a full sentence. He is expected to return to school after flu season.  

Pedro is currently in remission and maintenance will continue for the next three years.  

 

Golden Ribbon Hero: Beckham

Currently being treated for Stage 4 Neuroblastoma

Beckham_022Meet Beckham, one of our ambassadors for the month of September. He is a goofy 8 year old currently being treated for Stage 4 Neuroblastoma at Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York City.  Beckham was diagnosed on September 11, 2013 at the age of 3. A few weeks prior to his diagnosis, Beckham was playing with his sister and they banged their heads together. This resulted in Beckham’s black eyes.  His mom remembers looking at pictures from that time and seeing his eyes starting to darken.

“I called the doctor and they said to watch it and call if things worsened. They went down and then started to darken. I ended up taking him in to his pediatrician and they drew labs. Later that day I got a call that Beckham’s labs were abnormal and that we had an appointment with oncology up at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City,” his mom recalls.

Beckham_014At first, doctors didn’t think Beckham had cancer, they went through many diagnoses, everything from mono to anemia. The doctors were not convinced and decided to do a bone marrow biopsy which revealed that Beckham had tumors throughout his body and bone marrow.

beckhamTreatment was aggressive and as a result Beckham started chemotherapy. The doctors performed a resection of the main tumor and radiation to his skull in Utah which resulted in soft tissue tumors and bone marrow clearing well but the tumors in his bones had hardly changed. Beckham’s mom recalls going onto a Facebook group for Neuroblastoma and was urged to take him for a second opinion at Memorial Sloan Kettering. February 2014 was the first trip to NYC where Beckham received MIBG therapy, NK cell therapy, radiation, 3f8 antibioties, cryotherapy surgery, numerous rounds of chemotherapy and surgery to remove lymph nodes in his upper right underarm and chest.

Beckham_048Beckham has had two central lines and is on his third port. “He has endured four relapses, the most recent being March of 2018 and his doctors say he is a miracle boy.”

Fortunately, his latest scans show no evidence of disease. He is currently in treatment for an alk mutation which was found in his past two surgeries.  Beckham has a lot of personality and loves to make people laugh – we are looking forward to many laughs with Beckham!

Beckham is one strong little boy and an example of true perseverance. Beckham expresses to his mom that he is never giving up and his cancer is going down!

 

*Special thanks to our Candlelighters NYC Affiliate and Barbara Zobian*

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