Brain tumours are the second most common type of cancer in children, and in a number of countries, including Canada and the U.S., they are the leading cause of cancer-related death among children and adolescents under age 20. Frequently, little ones with brain tumours and those close to them express a sense of invisibility and loneliness. They often must spend extended periods of time in the hospital and away from friends and family members. Also, the effects of the disease or treatment may not always be apparent to others, despite the significant toll it takes on both mental and physical well-being.
What is a Brain Tumour?
Normal cells typically undergo controlled growth as they replace old or damaged cells. However, tumour cells differ in that they reproduce uncontrollably for reasons that are not yet fully understood.
Brain Tumour Classification
A primary brain tumour refers to an abnormal growth originating in the brain, which generally does not metastasize to other body parts. They can be categorized as either benign or malignant.
A benign brain tumour exhibits slow growth, has well-defined boundaries, and seldom spreads. While the cells within such tumours are not malignant, they can pose a life-threatening risk if located in critical areas.
On the other hand, a malignant brain tumour grows rapidly, possesses irregular boundaries, and extends into nearby regions of the brain.
Metastatic or secondary brain tumours arise when cancer originates in another part of the body and subsequently spreads to the brain. These tumours develop when cancer cells travel through the bloodstream. Regardless of whether a brain tumour is benign, malignant, or metastatic, they all have the potential to be life-threatening.
There are over 100 different types of tumours that can occur in the brain or spinal cord. Among infants and young children under the age of 3, embryonal brain tumours are the most prevalent form of brain tumours.
What Characterizes Embryonal Tumours
At Tali’s Fund, we focus our efforts on rare embryonal brain tumours.
Embryonal brain tumours originate from residual cells from the prenatal development stage. While these cells are typically harmless, in certain cases they can transform into cancerous tumours. These tumours have the potential to spread within the central nervous system, encompassing the brain and spinal cord, often through cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).
Treatment for embryonal tumours often involves a combination of surgery and chemotherapy. In some instances, radiotherapy may be recommended for children over three years old. For aggressive cases, high-dose chemotherapy with stem cell rescue can be an effective approach. Unfortunately, treating these malignant infant embryonal tumours remains a challenge. When children do survive, their treatment often results in lifelong cognitive and physical impairments.
What is the Prognosis?
Like any other form of cancer, the chance of long-term survival can differ significantly. For the best chance to combat the disease, getting medical attention as soon as possible is essential. With aggressive treatment, the development of the cancer can be stopped. However, it’s important to note that treating brain cancer is challenging. In many situations, surgery is too big of a risk.
Even after the treatments, ongoing follow-up care is vital because radiation and chemotherapy can cause side effects. In some cases, it’s also beneficial to do rehabilitation to regain muscle strength.
It’s impossible to mention all the ways brain cancers impact children. If you want to learn more, visit our Brain Tumours Facts webpage. Here are a few more helpful resources:
Remember – it’s never too late to educate yourself!