Brain and spinal cord tumors are masses of abnormal cells in the brain or spinal cord that grow uncontrollably.
There are two types of tumors, benign and malignant. Benign tumors do not spread to nearby tissues, so in other parts of the body they are never life threatening. Malignant tumors are deathly because they can spread throughout the body.
Brain tumors rarely spread to other parts of the body but most of them can spread through the brain and spinal cord tissue. The primary concern with brain and spinal cord tumors is that they grow at an extreme pace and spread through the rest of the brain or spinal cord. Plus they can come back, even after treatment.
Brain and spinal cord tumors in children are different from those in adults. They develop in different places, from different cell types, and may have a different treatment and outcome.
Symptoms of Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors in Children
Signs and symptoms of brain and spinal cord tumors might occur slowly and become worse over time or can occur suddenly like seizure. General symptoms include:
In some children, seizures are the first symptom of a brain tumor
. In the school-aged child, other general symptoms of tumors can include poor school performance
, fatigue, and personality changes.
Diagnosis of Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors in Children
Treatment for Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors in Children
- If your child has symptoms that suggest a brain or spinal cord tumor, the doctor will get a complete medical history, focusing on the symptoms and when they began. Depending on the child’s age, the examination may involve testing of reflexes, sensation, muscle strength, vision, eye and mouth movement, coordination, balance and other functions.
- The doctor may do some imaging tests which may include utilization of x-rays, strong magnets, or radioactive substances to create pictures of internal organs such as the brain and spinal cord. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans are used most often for brain diseases.
Children with brain and spinal cord tumors and their families have special needs that can be met best by cancer centers for children and teens. A cancer team will be setup and before the treatment, the doctors and other members of the team will help you, as a parent, understand the tests that will need to be done. The main treatments for children with brain and spinal cord tumors are:
- Radiation therapy
- Targeted Therapy
- Other drug treatments
In most of the cases, children will receive some combination of these treatments. Treatment is based on a number of factors including the type of tumor. As a parent, it’s important to discuss your child’s treatment options as well as their possible side effects with the treatment team to help make the decision.