Brain Tumours

Brain tumours are the most common solid tumour found in children and the second most common cancer in childhood, following leukaemia.

The two most common types of primary brain tumours that affect children are called Gliomas and Medulloblastomas.

  • Gliomas develop from the supporting cells of the brain and are also called astrocytomas, which can be slow growing or fast growing (ie low grade or high grade).
  • Medulloblastomas usually develop in the cerebellum at the back of the brain. They may, over time, spread to other parts of the brain or spinal cord.

Signs and Symptoms

There are a number of symptoms that are caused by a rise in pressure within the brain. These include;

  • Headaches
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Irritability
  • Seizures
  • Periods of unconsciousness
  • Hydrocephalus – when the tumour blocks the flow of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain. If this occurs in young babies, the soft spot on the head may bulge and their head becomes larger.
  • Declining school performance may also be noticed in some children.

Other symptoms depend on the position of the tumour – for example a tumour in the cerebellum may cause weakness and unsteadiness when walking.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of a brain tumour is confirmed through a number of procedures and tests:

  • CT or MRI scan of the brain
  • Lumbar Puncture (LP)
  • Tumour Biopsy
  • Eye and ear test
  • General physical examination

Treatment 

Surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy may be used alone or in combination to treat brain tumours:

  • Tumour removal via surgery is attempted whenever possible, if it is possible to remove the tumour then the outcome is improved. In many cases removal may not be possible, for example if the tumour is located within a sensitive or critical part of the brain. In these cases, chemotherapy or radiation therapy may be the first options.
  • Steroids may also be given to reduce swelling around the brain tumour – they do not treat the tumour but assist in reducing symptoms.

Drugs that help prevent fits, called anti-convulsants, may also be required.