Brain tumors are the second most diagnosed cancer tumors among children. Some tumors grow rapidly, these have malignant course; others grow slowly and do not usually invade surrounding tissue, they are known as benign tumors.
Brain tumors can occur at any age. Some are present at birth, having been formed while the baby grew in its mother’s womb. Tumors found in the brain of infants and children are very different to brain tumors that occur in adults.
As most of the symptoms are not very specific, it is possible that it takes a long time for a brain tumor to be diagnosed. Typical symptoms as following
Seizures, Headache and nausea (often in the morning, on waking up), unsteadiness in walking or balancing, a change in interest in food or unusual changes in the child’s behavior or personality.
If the doctor suspects that the child has a brain tumor, he will order a MRI Scan (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) of the head and sometimes of the spine as well. Information about the brain can also be found by looking into the eyes with a special light, so the child may be referred to an Eye Specialist as well.
Surgery is usually the first step in the treatment of brain tumors. The surgeon uses the MRI scans to see the type, location and size of the tumor, so that it can be taken out as safely as possible.
Treatment of a malignant brain tumor can also include chemotherapy and radiation therapy
The University Children’s Hospital in Düsseldorf has a well-established network of caregivers from a variety of disciplines, so that the treatment of children and teenagers who are diagnosed with a brain tumor is optimized. These caregivers include: Oncologists (Cancer specialists), Neurosurgeons (Surgeons who specialize in brain operations), Child Neurologists (a Children’s doctor who is also a specialist in treating brain/nerve diseases and their symptoms), a team of specialists at the Eye Clinic, Ear Nose and Throat Clinic and doctors who specialize in Endocrinology (Body hormones). The doctors co-operate closely with one another, and also value the experience and technical input from the Institute for Pathology and Cytopathology (Specialists who study blood cells or body tissue under a microscope) which is also on the hospital campus.
The nursing personnel complete this comprehensive team approach, and have also experience and insight into caring for young patients with brain tumors.
After brain surgery, rehabilitation for lost motor skill and muscle strength may be required for an extended amount of time. A team of Physiotherapists work with the child to build muscle strength and encourage physical movement. The clinic also has an Occupational Therapist who works to support and re-train finer muscle movements through play, exercises or doing art. A Sports Therapist is also available to motivate and encourage the young patient so that the natural activity level of being a kid is regained.
It goes without saying that the diagnosis of a brain tumor is a big challenge for the young patient, as well as for his family members. Support and specific informative advice is offered to the whole family throughout the difficult time of diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation. Specially trained Psychologists are available to help the patient and family cope with all that the diagnosis entails.
The Psychologists are also involved in the assessment of the affected child’s intellectual and physical capacities, his schooling level and if any action is to be taken regarding potential future employment training prospects.
Parents of children/teenagers who have also had brain tumors have formed an „Elterngruppe“ (Parent-group) that has been growing from strength to strength for more than ten years. This is a valuable resource for parents to make contact with others who can understand what they are going through, and to support one another.