Brain tumors are one of the most common types of childhood cancers, although they can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). A benign tumor is unlikely to spread to other tissues, but it can push on adjacent areas of the brain. Malignant tumors often grow into and spread throughout other brain tissues. In either case, however, the signs and symptoms of a brain tumor are often present and will require proper diagnosis and treatment.
The team of pediatric oncologists at Children’s Blood & Cancer Center in Austin provides expert diagnostics and treatment for childhood cancers using state-of-the-art technology and collaborative care. To provide specialized care for those with brain or spinal tumors, children and their families are connected with our neuro-oncology clinic.
Signs and Symptoms
While the exact cause of most pediatric brain tumors are unknown, there are a number of symptoms that you may be able to detect in your child. Not all children will experience the same signs of a brain tumor, however, and these symptoms may vary depending on the location in the brain:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Headaches that go away after vomiting
- Vision, hearing or speech impairment
- Loss of balance or coordination
- Change of behavior
The neuro-oncology team, which includes a collaboration of neurosurgeons, radiation and medical oncologists, certified pediatric oncology nurses and other multidisciplinary specialists, can perform a series of tests and procedures to accurately diagnose brain tumors in children:
- Physical exam to check for any physical symptoms that may be present, including lumps or other unusual characteristics
- Neurological exam to assess a child’s brain function using a series of tests that check coordination, mobility, muscle movement and reflexes
- Imaging tests like MRIs and NMRIs may be used to create a series of photographs of the brain and spinal cord to check for tumors
- Tumor marker tests involve drawing a blood sample in order to check for certain substances that may indicate the presence of cancerous cells
Treatment options for pediatric brain tumors can vary depending on factors such as the type and location of the tumor, and typically requires multidisciplinary care. In many cases, a biopsy is performed so that a pathologist can examine a sample of the tissue to look for cancer cells and determine the best treatment method(s).
Many childhood brain tumors are removed through surgery following a biopsy, which involves the use of a needle to remove a tissue sample from an opening created by removing part of the skull. If cancer cells are found, doctors may remove as much of the tumor as possible during the same procedure.
Chemotherapy & Radiation Therapy
In some cases, the tumor’s type or location poses a challenge to surgical treatment. When this occurs, other methods such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy may be the most appropriate treatments. Chemotherapy, which uses chemicals to kill cancer cells, may also be combined with radiation, which targets and destroys cancer cells using high-energy radiation.
Upon completing treatment, children and their families will continue to receive care aimed at managing any side effects or symptoms that may results from treatment, as well as scheduling routine follow-up appointments. These visits help to ensure that your child is safely and effectively recovering, and can also identify any new problems that may surface.
Your doctor may want to schedule monthly check-ups during the first year following initial treatment, but the frequency of these visits can gradually decrease over time as your child recovers. Maintaining an open line of communication with our collaborative care team even after surgery or other treatment methods can help to improve the quality of life of both children and their families as the road to recovery continues.