Pediatric Brain Tumor: 6 Major Symptoms in Children That Every Parent Must Know

Pediatric brain tumors are abnormal cell growths that develop due to a genetic alteration in normal brain cells. These tumors can put pressure on surrounding brain structures, causing symptoms such as persistent headaches and nausea.

Pediatric brain tumor: 6 main symptoms in children that every parent should know

Childhood cancers encompass a variety of rare diseases in which malignant cells develop in children and adolescents. Although relatively rare compared to adult cancers, it poses unique challenges due to physiological and developmental differences in children. Pediatric brain tumors are abnormal cell growths that develop due to a genetic alteration in normal brain cells. These tumors can put pressure on surrounding brain structures, causing symptoms such as persistent headaches and nausea. They vary in type, some grow quickly while others develop slowly. Brain tumor can be malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous), but even a benign tumor can cause serious problems due to its location and possible pressure on vital areas of the brain. Although relatively rare, brain tumor is the second most common type of cancer affecting children, after leukemia.

Receiving a brain tumor diagnosis in a child can be distressing; However, with early detection, specialized treatment protocols, and continued research into causes and cures, outcomes for children with cancer are improving rapidly.

Types of pediatric brain tumors:

Most brain tumors in children are primary, meaning they start in the brain and usually do not spread to other parts of the body. Primary brain tumors can be life-threatening if they grow in a critical area or cause pressure on brain structures that control vital functions. Dr Abhishek Kumar, Consultant Pediatric Oncology, HCG Hospital, Ranchi, shared the most common symptoms of brain tumor in children.

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  • Astrocytomas are one of the most prevalent types of gliomas in children, accounting for approximately half of all pediatric brain tumors. There are four main types of astrocytomas: pilocytic astrocytoma, diffuse astrocytoma, anaplastic astrocytoma, and glioblastoma multiforme, each with varying degrees of aggressiveness and treatment approaches.
  • Brainstem gliomas are tumors that form in the brainstem, which controls essential functions such as breathing and heart rate. Due to their critical location, these tumors can be particularly aggressive and difficult to treat, often requiring a carefully coordinated approach.
  • Choroid plexus tumors originate in cerebrospinal fluid-producing areas of the brain, such as the choroid plexus. These tumors are most frequently found in children and can vary in behavior, with some being benign and others malignant.
  • Ependymomas arise from the ependymal cells that line the ventricles of the brain and the central canal of the spinal cord. These tumors can be benign or malignant, and their location and grade determine the treatment strategy and prognosis.
  • Medulloblastomas are highly malignant tumors that usually occur in the cerebellum, the part of the brain responsible for coordination and balance. These tumors are known for their rapid growth and require aggressive treatment, including surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
    In children over 15 years of age, pituitary tumors, generally benign, are more common, along with pilocytic tumors.

Common symptoms of pediatric brain cancer:

Recognizing the signs of pediatric brain tumors early is key to timely diagnosis and treatment. Common symptoms to look out for in children include:

  • Persistent headaches: Frequent, severe headaches that do not respond to medications.
  • Vomiting and Nausea: Particularly in the morning or unrelated to food.
  • Vision changes: Blurred or double vision, or unexpected loss of vision.
  • Balance problems: difficulty walking or maintaining balance.
  • Behavioral changes: Sudden mood swings, personality changes, or unusual behavior.
  • Seizures: Episodes of uncontrolled movements or convulsions.
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Diagnosis and treatment of pediatric brain tumors

Diagnosing pediatric brain tumors involves a combination of imaging tests, such as MRIs and CT scans, and sometimes a biopsy for a conclusive diagnosis. Once a tumor is identified, treatment options may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of these, depending on the type, size, and location of the tumor.

Common treatment approaches include:

  • Placement of a ventriculoperitoneal shunt: This involves draining excess fluid from the brain through a small plastic tube called a shunt.
  • Surgical resection: Removal of as much of the tumor as possible through a hole in the skull.
  • Radiation therapy: High-energy rays are used to prevent cells from growing and dividing, and may be used before or after surgery and along with chemotherapy.
  • Chemotherapy: Often used for tumors that are difficult to remove surgically or that are particularly aggressive.

Each of these treatment approaches has its specific risks and benefits, and the optimal choice depends on the specific characteristics of the tumor and the patient’s overall health and prognosis.
Without a doubt, facing a diagnosis of brain cancer in a child is a challenge for parents and families. However, the evolving field of pediatric oncology offers a wealth of resources, advanced treatment options, and a supportive community to guide families through this difficult journey. The key to a successful outcome often lies in early detection, accurate diagnosis, and a comprehensive treatment plan tailored to the child’s specific needs. As research into pediatric brain cancer advances, hope grows for better treatments, better survival rates, and a future in which children with brain cancer can lead healthy, fulfilling lives.

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(Contributions from: HCG – Abdur Razzaque Ansari Cancer Hospital, Ranchi)



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