Brain Tumor and Brain Cancer—ChildEn Español (Spanish Version)
A brain tumor is a disease in which cells grow uncontrollably in the brain. Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. If cells divide uncontrollably, they form a mass of tissue. The mass is called a growth or tumor. The term cancer usually refers to malignant tumors. These can invade nearby tissue and can spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor does not spread. But it can continue to grow and press on structures near it, causing symptoms.
Brain cancer can fall into two categories:
- Primary brain cancer—These begin in the brain. They can be either malignant or benign. A small benign tumor in a bad location can cause many problems.
- Secondary or metastatic brain cancer—These tumors have spread to the brain from another site. Metastatic tumors are malignant.
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The cause of most primary brain cancer is unknown. Researchers believe that the tumors may be due to defects in genes. These defects trigger cells to grow uncontrollably.
Secondary brain cancer is caused by the cancer spreading to the brain from another site.
These factors increase your child’s chance of developing brain tumors:
- A genetic condition (eg, retinoblastoma )
- Being exposed to radiation
- Being exposed to certain chemicals
- A condition that affects the immune system
- Family history of certain types of cancer
Symptoms depend on how large the tumor is and where it is located. The extra tissue and fluid, which can build up around the tumor, can cause:
The doctor will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your child will have a neurologic exam. This will test muscle strength, coordination, reflexes, response to stimuli, and alertness. The doctor may also look into your child’s eyes to check for signs of brain swelling.
Tests may include:
- MRI scan —a test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of structures inside the body
- CT scan —a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside the body
- PET scan —a test that uses a radioactive substance to view active parts of the brain
- Arteriography —a type of x-ray that uses contrast dye to create pictures of blood vessels in the brain
- Biopsy —removal of a sample of brain tissue to test for cancer cells (may involve a small needle being inserted into the brain or a larger surgery)
There are many different types of brain tumors. The doctor will classify the type. The type of brain tumor is important in determining the treatment approach.
Treatment depends on the type, size, and location of the cancer. It also depends on your child’s overall health. Treatments may cause physical or mental limitations.
In some cases, the doctor may recommend that your child takes medicine, such as:
- Corticosteroids—to reduce swelling in the brain
- Anticonvulsants—to prevent seizures
Examples of surgical procedures used to treat brain tumors include:
- Craniotomy —opening the skull to remove the tumor (or as much of the tumor as possible)
- Placement of a shunt—implanting a long thin tube in the brain to divert built-up fluid to another part of the body
Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body killing mostly cancer cells, but also some healthy cells. The doctor may choose to deliver the drugs into cerebrospinal fluid. This is fluid that surrounds the brain tissue.
Radiation therapy is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells or shrink tumors. This is a common treatment for brain tumors. Radiation may be used alone or along with chemotherapy.
Since your child is still developing and may have lost skills, the rehab therapy team will be an important part of treatment. The team may include:
- Physical therapist to help with walking, balance, and building strength
- Occupational therapist to help with life skills (eg, dressing, eating, using the toilet)
- Speech therapy to help with communication and other issues (eg, swallowing difficulties)
Your child may also work with an educational specialist to help him transition back to school and to help with learning problems.
American Brain Tumor Association
American Cancer Society
Canadian Cancer Society
Cancer Care Ontario
American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Brain tumors. Neurosurgery Today.org website. Available at: http://www.neurosurgerytoday.org/what/patient_e/brain2.asp . Updated March 2006. Accessed June 30, 2010.
Children’s Hospital Boston. Brain tumors. Children’s Hospital Boston website. Available at: http://www.childrenshospital.org/az/Site659/mainpageS659P0.html . Accessed June 30, 2010.
Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Brain tumors. Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin website. Available at: http://www.chw.org/display/router.asp?DocID=22484#22484_8 . Accessed June 30, 2010.
DynaMed Editorial Team. Brain tumor. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php . Updated June 22, 2010. Accessed June 30, 2010.
Editorial staff and contributors. PET scan. EBSCO Health Library website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/thisTopic.php?marketID=15topicID=81 . Updated November 9, 2009. Accessed June 30, 2010.
Pediatric brain and spinal cord tumor center. Comer Children’s Hospital, the University of Chicago website. Available at: http://www.uchicagokidshospital.org/specialties/cancer/brain-spinal/index.html . Accessed July 10, 2010.
Wood D. Brain tumor and brain cancer. EBSCO Health Library website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/thisTopic.php?marketID=15topicID=81 . Updated September 30, 2009. Accessed June 30, 2010.
Last reviewed June 2011 by Kari Kassir, MD
Last updated Updated: 6/6/2011
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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