Can A Child Survive Brain Cancer?

Reviewed on 1/20/2021

What Is Brain Cancer?

Survival rates for childhood brain cancer vary widely depending on the type of brain cancer. Children diagnosed with pilocytic astrocytoma, for example, have a 90% chance of being alive five years after diagnosis. Kids with glioblastoma are in worse shape; nearly 80% die from the condition within five years of diagnosis.
Survival rates for childhood brain cancer vary widely depending on the type of brain cancer. Children diagnosed with pilocytic astrocytoma, for example, have a 90% chance of being alive five years after diagnosis. Kids with glioblastoma are in worse shape; nearly 80% die from the condition within five years of diagnosis.

Brain cancer occurs when cells in the brain grow out of control. Brain tumors, both cancerous (malignant) or benign, are tumors that originate in the cells of the brain and are the most common type of solid tumors in children. 

Not all brain tumors are cancerous.

What Are Symptoms of Brain Cancer in Children?

Symptoms of a brain tumor or brain cancer in children can vary depending on the size and location of the tumor

Symptoms that may be caused by increased intracranial pressure (ICP) in or around the brain may include: 

Symptoms of brain tumors in the front of the brain (cerebrum) may include:

  • Seizures
  • Slurred speech
  • Visual changes
  • Paralysis or weakness on half of the body or face
  • Increased intracranial pressure 
  • Confusion
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Drowsiness 
  • Personality changes
  • Impaired judgment
  • Gait disturbances
  • Problems communicating

Symptoms of brain tumors in the base of the brain (brainstem) may include:

  • Seizures
  • Headaches
  • Endocrine problems (diabetes and/or hormone regulation)
  • Vision changes or double vision
  • Paralysis of nerves/muscles of the face, or half of the body
  • Changes in breathing
  • Clumsy, uncoordinated walk
  • Increased intracranial pressure 
  • Hearing loss
  • Personality changes

Symptoms of brain tumors in the back of the brain (cerebellum) may include:

  • Increased intracranial pressure 
  • Vomiting (usually occurs in the morning without nausea)
  • Headache
  • Uncoordinated muscle movements
  • Problems walking 

What Causes Brain Cancer in Children?

According to the American Cancer Society, there is no clear cause for the development of brain tumors and brain cancer in children. Most brain tumors arise from genetic changes, though the cause of these changes is unknown. 

Risk factors for developing brain tumors include: 

  • Certain genetic conditions 
  • Exposure to certain chemicals, including pesticides and petroleum products
  • Past radiation therapy to the head from prior treatment for another cancer

How Is Brain Cancer in Children Diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, tests to diagnose brain cancer in children include: 

QUESTION

Which of these is NOT a type of head and neck cancer? See Answer

What Is the Treatment for Brain Cancer in Children?

The treatment for brain cancer in children may involve one or more of the following:

  • Surgery
    • Usually the first-line treatment to remove as much of the tumor as possible
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Steroids to treat and prevent swelling in the brain
  • Antiseizure medication to treat and prevent seizures due to increased intracranial pressure
  • Ventriculoperitoneal shunt (VP shunt) to drain excess fluid from inside the brain to the abdomen and control pressure inside the brain
  • Bone marrow transplantation
  • Supportive care for side effects of the tumor or treatment
  • Rehabilitation to regain lost motor skills and muscle strength
    • Speech therapy  
    • Physical therapy  
    • Occupational therapy  
  • Antibiotics to treat and prevent infections
  • Regular follow-up care 
    • To manage the disease
    • To detect tumor recurrence 
    • To manage side effects of treatment

Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Cancer Institute recommend that children with brain tumors receive a cancer diagnosis and treatment at a medical center in the U.S. that specializes in pediatric cancers. The survival rates are 20% to 40% higher when children receive care in these specialized centers.

What Is the Life Expectancy for Brain Cancer?

Children can survive brain cancer in many cases. The life expectancy and prognosis for brain cancer in children depends on many factors, such as:

  • The type of tumor
  • The size of the tumor
  • The location of the tumor
  • The extent of the disease
  • If the cancer has spread (metastasized)
  • The tumor's response to therapy
  • The age and overall health of the child
  • The child's tolerance of specific medications, procedures, or therapies

Life expectancy for brain cancer is often expressed in 5-year survival rates, that is, how many people will be alive 5 years after diagnosis.  

The American Cancer Society’s estimated 5-year survival rate varies depending on the type of tumor.

Type of Tumor5-Year Survival Rate
Pilocytic astrocytomaAbout 95%
Diffuse astrocytomaAbout 80% to 85%
Anaplastic astrocytomaAbout 25%
GlioblastomaAbout 20%
OligodendrogliomaAbout 90%
Ependymoma/anaplastic ependymomaAbout 75%
Embryonal tumors (includes medulloblastoma)About 60% to 65%

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Reviewed on 1/20/2021
References
https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=braintumorsinchildren-90-P02745

https://www.cancer.org/cancer/brain-spinal-cord-tumors-children/detection-diagnosis-staging/survival-rates.html