Brain Stem Glioma Childhood Cancer
Brain Stem Glioma begins when healthy cells in the brain stem change and grow out of control forming a mass called a tumour. It is a type of Central Nervous System (CNS) tumour. The brain is connected to the spinal cord by the brain stem which is lowest portion of the brain, located above the back of the neck. Our body’s basic functions, such as motor skills, sensory activity, coordination and walking, the beating of the heart and breathing are controlled by the brain stem.
It has 3 parts:
- One which develops from the middle of the brain is called the midbrain
- One which connects to the spinal cord is called the medulla oblongata
- One which is located between the medulla oblongata and the midbrain called the pons.
A glioma is a tumour that grows from a glial cell, which is a supportive cell in the brain. There are two types of brain stem gliomas in children.
Brain stem glioma cancer spreads very fast through the brain stem hence by the time it is diagnosed it is most often already diffused. The nature of this type of tumour is very aggressive. Only a small percentage of brain stem tumours called Focal Tumours are very localized and not likely to grow and spread quickly.
Brain stem glioma is mostly seen in children between 5 and 10 years old. For most of the brain stem tumours it is difficult to perform surgery as they develop in the pons and grow in a part of the brain stem where it is difficult to perform surgery, making brain stem glioma challenging to treat.
Symptoms of Brain Tumour Symptoms are drooping of the face, frequent nausea and vomiting, loss of balance and trouble in walking, weakness, vision, hearing and speech problems, morning headache or headache that goes away after vomiting. At times no such symptoms are noticed in children with a brain stem glioma.
Brain Stem Glioma Childhood Cancer are diagnosed on clinical findings and by using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Biopsy is yet another way to diagnose brainstem tumours. Stereotactic needle biopsy is a new approach.
Brainstem glioma patients are taken care of a multidisciplinary team which include neurosurgeons, non-surgical specialists and other therapists. Important treatment of brainstem gliomas includes relief of hydrocephalus, management of pain and motor impairment and general support to improve quality of life.
Radiation therapy is not used on children below 3 years and it is not recommended as an early treatment because of its long term consequences of their development.
Chemotherapy has been little successful in treatment of brainstem gliomas. Its effectiveness is still uncertain.
Chemotherapy and Radiation are mainly used for high grade tumours or at a very advanced stage of the cancer.
Surgery is used only for treating certain types of brainstem glioma Cancer.