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Types of Brain Tumors in Children

young girl looking up at her medical providers before her MRI

There may not be a more frightening phrase for parents than brain tumor. Nevertheless, we need to discuss and understand brain tumors since over 5,000 tumors are diagnosed in children and adolescents every year. Keep in mind a tumor does not necessarily mean cancer, but the effects of a tumor can be devastating. Keep reading to learn more about the types of brain tumors in children.

Some Facts About Common Brain Tumors in Children

Most brain tumors in children are primary tumors, which means they develop in the brain and usually do not spread elsewhere. They can be life threatening if the development is in an area important within the brain and they press on another part of the brain that controls body functions.

The most common tumors in children under the age of 15 include:

  • Medulloblastoma is a fast growing tumor much like an embryonal tumor (comes from fetal cells in the brain). These occur usually in children ages 0 to 4.
  • Pilocytic astrocytoma is a slow growing and benign non-cancerous tumor usually between ages 5 and 9. They are also known as gliomas.
  • Ependymoma is a cancerous tumor that is rare but makes up 8 to 10 percent of brain tumors in children.
  • Malignant gliomas usually occur in children ages 10 – 15.

Symptoms and Signs of Brain Tumors in Children

Obviously very young children cannot communicate their symptoms well to their parents, however parents can look for signs of brain tumors. Non-malignant or slow growing tumors have very subtle symptoms, whereas malignant ones have definite signs.

Common signs include the following:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blurry vision
  • Sleepiness and lethargy
  • Numbness and weakness
  • Gross and fine motor skill delays
  • Bowel and bladder dysfunction
  • Headaches
  • Scoliosis
  • Hydrocephalus, or water on the brain

If your child exhibits any or any combination of the signs above, bring it to the attention of your primary doctor.

Steps to Diagnosis Brain Tumors and Treatment Strategies

If your physician suspects your child may have a brain tumor, they will recommend a number of tests and scans.

  1. They may start with a neurological exam which evaluates balance, vision, coordination, strength, and reflexes.
  2. Imaging tests will determine the location and size of a tumor like an MRI, PT scan, or a PET scan.
  3. A biopsy may be the next step. Here your pediatric neurosurgeon will remove a small piece of tissue, or it will be done during surgery to remove the tumor. If the tumor is in a precarious place in the brain, the doctors may insert a needle biopsy to withdraw tissue. After careful analysis, they can determine how aggressive the tumor is and what types of cell are present.
  4. It’s possible to use targeting drug therapy if they discover the tumor is malignant and has genetic mutations. These therapies are customized for the child.
  5. Tests will be done to discover if the tumor has spread from another area of the body.

Possible treatment strategies include surgery to remove part or all of the tumor. Radiation treatment and chemotherapy might be needed after surgery, along with several other therapies.

Being Prepared for Recovery After Your Child’s Brain Surgery

Families will be educated by your neurosurgeon and your child’s care team about what to expect. Your child will immediately remain in an intensive care unit before being moved to a floor situation. Your child may only stay a few days or it could be longer.

Your child might need to have physical therapy to improve or re-learn certain skills. They may require occupational therapy to help with daily activities and speech therapy if speaking is a problem.

Returning to school will be dependent on the side effects after the surgery. A tutor may be a good option to consider at first.

Most importantly, rely on Pediatric Neurosurgery Group for information and prognosis. It may seem daunting at first, but give it time.

Contact an experienced pediatric neurosurgeon in Detroit if you notice any signs of a brain tumor in your child. To schedule your child’s consultation at our neurosurgery center in Detroit, please call (313) 833-4490 or request an appointment through our secure online form.

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