The word “tumor” is a frightening thing to hear. Although in some cases tumors can be benign (a well-contained, non-cancerous growth), most people associate brain tumors with the malignant, cancerous type. These tumors don’t distinguish between age, race, or gender, and quite frankly, the survival rate is quite low. About 20 percent of people diagnosed with a malignant tumor survive past the five-year mark, and only about 15 percent survive past 10 years. With those statistics in mind, it can be devastating for any parent to hear that their child has been diagnosed with a brain tumor.
Early detection is key
What are the potential signs that your child may be developing a brain tumor? One sign that’s common in children with a tumor is headaches. The only problem with this symptom is that sometimes a headache can just be a headache, or it can be a sign that your child may need glasses. A headache that gets worse in the morning could be cause for concern as pressure to your brain increases because you’re lying down, and a tumor only adds to that pressure. Paying careful attention to when your child complains about headaches can be important.
Persistent nausea and/or vomiting may signal other bodily issues, but when combined with other symptoms can also be an identifying factor for a tumor. Again, pay attention to when it happens. If it happens particularly in the morning, this could be a warning sign. Is your child normally a sweet, cuddle lover but all of a sudden has become a terror? Is your child normally the more active type, but now seems to prefer sitting on the sidelines? Sudden changes in personality can often be a symptom of a brain tumor.
More specific symptoms
Depending on what part of the brain the tumor is actually located in, there are other, more specific, site-related symptoms. If the tumor is developing near the front of the brain, it may bring on seizures, weakness, or paralyzation of half the body, or perhaps the face in particular, causing sudden changes in vision, along with speech that’s unusually slurred, short-term memory problems, and problems with communication.
If the tumor is developing near the base of the brain, it can also cause seizures, vision issues (in particular double vision), headaches, paralysis specifically of the nerves and or muscles in the face or in half the body, changes in the respiratory system, an uncoordinated walk, hearing loss, and personality changes. Tumors in the back of the brain can include symptoms such as vomiting that usually happens in the morning, headaches, problems with walking, and muscle movements that are not coordinated.
While the survival rate can seem extremely low, it is still worth going through treatment because the outcome may be more positive than expected. The procedure is much the same as it is for adults. Usually, surgery is first done to remove the tumor. The location will determine if removal of the tumor will be difficult or not possible at all. After surgery often comes chemotherapy and radiation treatment, which will hopefully shrink the tumor and kill off the remaining cancerous cells.
As with adults, along with the chemotherapy and radiation will come additional therapies and medications to help combat the sometimes negative side effects that come along with such treatments, as well as regaining skills that may have been lost during the course of such treatments. Pediatric brain tumors can definitely be terrifying for a child and parents to go through, but knowing how to identify the signs and symptoms in a child can drastically improve their chances of survival.
Steve Schadendorf, MD
Founding Medical Partner
Dr. Schadendorf is a board certified neurologist who specializes in vascular neurology at Bass Medical Group. Dr. Schadendorf is a Founding Medical Partner and Medical Director of the Neuromedicine Channel at Doctorpedia.