Pediatric Brain Tumors | Miami Cancer Institute | Baptist Health South Florida
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Pediatric Brain Tumors

It can be frightening and overwhelming to hear that your child has a brain tumor, but Miami Cancer Institute experts are here to ensure that your child has the best care possible, sometimes with such unique treatments as proton therapy.

An advanced form of radiation treatment, proton therapy spares healthy tissue and eliminates many of the side effects of conventional radiation treatment (also known as photon or external beam radiation). It shoots from 360 degrees around the patient. Using proton therapy reduces the risk of damage to bones and soft tissues and decreases the odds of other tumors later in life, which makes it particularly good for treating childhood cancers. When it opens in 2017, the Proton Therapy Center at Miami Cancer Institute will be the only center of its kind in the region and one of only 14 in the United States.

Before you understand your child’s treatment options, however, it’s helpful to know more about brain tumors. They are the most common solid tumors in children, with approximately 4,000 children and adolescents in the U.S. diagnosed each year. Because the brain is part of the body’s nervous system, it controls the ability to think, learn, speak, feel emotion and reason. It also controls basic body functions such as movement, sensation, breathing, and heartbeat. A brain tumor can threaten your child’s overall health, whether it is benign or malignant. Most benign, or noncancerous, tumors are made up of slow-growing cells that rarely spread. Most malignant, or cancerous, tumors are made up of fast-growing cells that invade surrounding tissue. Both benign and malignant tumors can be life threatening and can require intensive treatment.

What causes brain tumors?

A tumor is an abnormal growth of tissue. Many brain tumors have genetic origins, meaning they are caused by alterations directly in the genes. Patients with certain genetic conditions, such as neurofibromatosis and retinoblastoma, have an increased risk for developing tumors of the central nervous system. Children who have received radiation therapy to the head as part of prior treatment for other malignancies are at an increased risk for new brain tumors. Researchers also are studying other causes, including a change in gene structure that may come from parents who had past exposure to certain chemicals, including pesticides and petroleum products.

Where are brain tumors located?

Tumors may be found in the cerebrum, or front of the brain; the brainstem, or base of the brain; or the cerebellum, the back of the brain. Different areas of the brain control different functions.

What are the symptoms of a brain tumor?

Each child experiences symptoms differently. The size and location of a tumor also impact symptoms as well. Among the most common symptoms are:

  • Increased intracranial pressure caused by extra tissue or fluid in the brain
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Personality changes
  • Irritability
  • Drowsiness
  • Depression
  • Decreased cardiac and respiratory function
  • Seizures
  • Visual changes
  • Slurred speech
  • Uncoordinated muscle movements or walk

Types of tumors

The most common brain tumor is a glioma. There are several different types of gliomas, including astrocytomas (found anywhere in the brain or spinal cord), brain stem gliomas (some that cannot be surgically removed because of the location and delicate and complex function this area controls), ependymomas (found most often near the cerebellum, can be slow-growing but recurring) and optic nerve gliomas (found in or around the nerves that send messages from the eyes to the brain). Other types of tumors include:

  • Primitive neuroectodermal tumors (PNET), occurring anywhere in the brain, often fast-growing and malignant
  • Medulloblastomas, a PNET found near the midline of the cerebellum, often fast-growing
  • Craniopharyngiomas, benign tumors that occur at the base of the brain near the nerves from the eyes to the brain and the hormone centers
  • Pineal region tumors, near the pineal gland, which helps control sleep and wake cycles

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Existe una amplia gama de opciones de tratamiento para niños con tumores cerebrales. Para diagnosticar y analizar mejor la condición de su hijo – y así ayudar a determinar el mejor tratamiento – el médico de su hijo completará un historial médico a fondo y también ordenará una serie de exámenes. Porque no existe una sola manera de tratar el cáncer, los exámenes y el plan de atención de su hijo pueden ser muy distintos al de otros niños, aunque tengan el mismo tipo de cáncer.

Los exámenes más comunes, dependiendo del tipo de tumor cerebral que se sospeche, incluyen:​

  • A neurological exam, testing reflexes, muscle strength, eye and mouth movement, coordination and alertness
  • CT scan
  • MRI
  • X-ray
  • Angiogram, using dye and X-rays to visualize the blood vessels in the brain
  • Myelogram, an X-ray of the spine that is similar to an angiogram. Lumbar puncture/spinal tap
  • PET scan, a nuclear medicine procedure that measures the metabolic activity of cells

Results of the tests will help your doctor develop a customized treatment plan for your child.

At Miami Cancer Institute, the comprehensive treatment of your child involves numerous specialists. You may see several pediatric physicians, oncologists, surgeons and radiation experts, as well as nurses, dietitians, therapists and social workers. We understand that this can be a confusing and stressful time for every family member, and we are here to help.

One of the most exciting advances in the fight against cancer – proton therapy – is coming soon to Miami Cancer Institute. When it opens in 2017, the Proton Therapy Center will be the only center of its kind in the region and one of only 14 in the United States. An advanced form of radiation treatment, proton therapy spares healthy tissue and eliminates many of the side effects of conventional radiation treatment (also known as photon or external beam radiation). It shoots from 360 degrees around the patient. While traditional X-rays pass through healthy tissue and organs on their way in and out of the body, protons travel through the body and release most of their energy inside a tumor. Using proton therapy reduces the risk of damage to bones and soft tissues and decreases the odds of other tumors later in life, which makes it particularly good for treating childhood cancers. Children with cancer have special concerns. For many, the side effects of treatment, such as nausea, make it difficult to eat, an issue that can affect growth. Sometimes, pain from other forms of treatment is hard to keep in check. An additional benefit of proton therapy for children is that it not only reduces their risk later in life of having cancer again ― due to earlier treatments ― but it eliminates unwanted side effects. And its ability to kill cancer cells in areas near bones without zapping the bones with radiation that can lead to improper development and disfigurement is a significant advantage.

Other treatments may include (alone or in combination):

​As with any cancer, prognosis and long-term survival can vary greatly from individual to individual. Continuous follow-up care is essential, and rehabilitation may be required. The healthcare team at Miami Cancer Institute will work closely with you and your family to develop the best treatment plan for your child.