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Brain Tumors in Children

What is a brain tumor?

A brain tumor is a growth of abnormal cells in the brain. Brain tumors are a common form of cancer in children. They can be benign (without cancer cells) or malignant (contain cancer cells).

The sooner cancer is found and treated, the better your child's chances for recovery. However, even advanced cancer can usually be treated. Treatment may slow or temporarily stop the growth of the cancer and ease symptoms. Ask your healthcare provider what you can expect with the type of cancer that your child has.

What is the cause?

It is not known why most brain tumors occur. The only known risk factor for brain tumors is being exposed to radiation. Some rare kinds of brain and spinal cord tumors run in families.

What are the symptoms?

Tumors increase pressure in the skull, causing:

  • Headache that often occurs in the morning or wakes your child up during the night
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Vision problems, such as seeing double or losing some vision
  • Trouble thinking or speaking clearly
  • Drowsiness

Depending on where the tumor is in the brain, it also may cause:

  • Weakness on one side of the body
  • Dizziness or loss of balance
  • Mood swings
  • Seizures
  • Personality changes
  • Trouble walking or handling objects

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and examine your child. Your child may have a neurological exam. This exam checks things like eye movements, reflexes, balance, taste, and smell. It also checks how well your child is thinking and remembering.

Other tests may include:

  • X-rays
  • An angiogram, which is a test to that uses contrast dye injected into a vein ans X-rays to find blockages
  • CT, which uses X-rays and a computer to show detailed pictures of the brain
  • PET, which is a kind of X-ray that uses a radioactive material injected into a vein to show detailed pictures of the cancer
  • MRI, which uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to show detailed pictures of the brain

A biopsy may be done to confirm that a tumor is cancer and to find out what type of cells are involved. When your child has a biopsy, he will first be given an anesthetic so that he will not feel any pain.

How is it treated?

There are many types of brain tumors that occur in children. Treatment and chance of recovery depend on the type of tumor, its location within the brain, how much it has spread, and your child's age and general health.

Possible treatments are:

  • Surgery, which removes cancer cells
  • Radiation therapy, which uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells
  • Chemotherapy (anticancer drugs), which uses medicine to kill cancer cells

How can I take care of my child?

If your child has been diagnosed with brain cancer:

  • Talk about your child’s cancer and treatment options with your healthcare provider. Make sure you understand your choices.
  • Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider.
  • Ask your healthcare provider:
    • How and when you will hear your child’s test results
    • How long it will take your child to recover
    • What activities your child should avoid and when your child can return to normal activities
    • How to take care of your child at home
    • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if your child has them
  • Make sure you know when your child should come back for a checkup.

It may also help if your child:

  • Eats a healthy diet and gets regular exercise and rest.
  • Takes time for activities that your child enjoys. It may help your child to talk with a counselor about his illness.
  • Tells you or your provider if treatment causes discomfort. Usually there are ways to help your child be more comfortable.

For more information, contact:

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2013.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-12-12
Last reviewed: 2012-05-21
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2013 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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