Kathryn E. Vinson, MS, CCRC
As a mom, I honestly cannot think of anything more terrifying than a cancer diagnosis in one of my kids. Having dealt with my own cancer, the thought of one of my boys suffering just slays me. When we talk about cancer in children, we most often talk about either leukemia or brain tumors of some kind. Sadly, there aren’t many among us who don’t know a child, or the child of a friend, that has been stricken with one of these diseases. Today, let’s finish up our broad overview of brain and nervous system tumors with a discussion of those that most frequently affect kiddos, as these types of tumors can differ greatly from the most frequently seen in adults. And I say the most frequent, because heartbreakingly, there are just so many of these tumor types. Before we get started, the grading system for brain and nervous system tumors in children is the same as that in adults, ranging from grade I to grade IV with increasing infiltrative abilities.
By far, gliomas make up the largest group of brain tumors in children, accounting for roughly half of all diagnoses. Fortunately, among these gliomas, the most prevalent type found in children are grade I or II astrocytomas that are slow growers and don’t tend to grow into adjacent tissues. This offers a better prognosis for these kids. Among these astrocytomas are:
- Pilocytic astrocytomas – grade I tumors that represent about 20% of all childhood brain and spinal cord tumors.
- Subependymal giant cell astrocytomas – grade I tumors that occur in the ventricles of the brain, mostly caused by an inherited condition known as tuberous sclerosis.
- Diffuse astrocytomas – grade II tumors that become more aggressive as time passes. Can infiltrate adjacent tissues, making surgical removal more difficult.
- Pleomorphic xanthoastrocytomas – grade II tumors that grow slowly and can usually be cured with surgery alone.
- Optic gliomas – linked to an inherited condition called neurofibromatosis type 1, these tumors start in the optic nerve. Although they rarely result in death, they can cause profound vision problems or damage to nearby brain structures.
- High grade astrocytomas such as glioblastomas (grade IV) and anaplastic astrocytomas (grade III).
In this type of tumor, it is differentiated by where the tumor originates, in this case the brainstem. These tumors account for anywhere from 10-20% of brain tumors in kids. Remember when we discussed some of the basics of neurology, and I mentioned that the location of tumors is very important, as the location can have an impact on the function controlled by a certain area? Well, the brainstem is without a doubt, one of the most important areas of the brain. Ten of the twelve cranial nerves exit from the brain stem, our sensory and motor neurons head down to the rest of the body via the brainstem, it helps regulate our heart beat and respiratory rate, as well as our sleep cycle. So, as you can imagine, a tumor in this area can have profound effects on the rest of the body. The most common type of brainstem glioma is the diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma. These tumors grow diffusely – where the cancer cells are interspersed among normal cells – and can be difficult to treat.
This type of tumor is almost never seen in adults, as they are derived from early forms of nervous system tissue. Prognosis depends on the type of tumor diagnosed, with some having a better outlook than others. Types of these tumors include: medulloepithelioma, atypical teratoid/rhabdoid tumor, embryonal tumor with multilayered rosettes.
Less common tumors
Some of the rarer tumors seen in children are:
- Pineal tumors
- Mixed glial and neuronal tumors
- Choroid plexus tumors
- Germ cell tumors
- Pituitary tumors
Is there a certain type of tumor you’d like to know more about? Comment below or use our contact us page to let me know! If you know of a little one battling any type of cancer, take a look at our page dedicated to gifts for kids with cancer, as well as our Cancer Horizons College Scholarship!
As always, much love, many prayers, and abundant blessings to all of the warriors out there, especially the youngest and tiniest of fighters!