Pediatric Brain Tumors
One out of every six (6) childhood cancer diagnosis is a brain tumor, and in fact, brain and spinal cord tumors are the most common solid tumors of childhood. Overall, they are second only to leukemia in childhood cancer diagnosis rates. The survival rates for children vary depending upon the age of the child and the type of tumor, but the overall cure rates for pediatric brain tumors is nearly 75%. Some children with brain tumors are cured with surgery alone, but frequently surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments must be used together to achieve the best outcome.
The diagnosis and treatment of pediatric brain and spinal cord tumors requires a team approach dedicated to the well being of the child. Our team includes internationally known experts in Neuro-Oncology, Radiation Therapy, Neurosurgery, Neuroradiology, and Neuropathology as well as support from a dedicated nursing staff, neurologist, social workers, child life specialist, neuropsychologist, and physical therapist.
Treatments & Therapies
The expertise of a skilled neurosurgeon is essential to the proper diagnosis and treatment of most brain tumors. In fact, some brain tumors may be cured with surgery alone. However, surgery of the brain requires an approach that generally looks to remove as much of the tumor as possible in a way that causes as little of the normal brain tissue to be injured as possible. Our neurosurgeons are able to utilize the latest and best tools available for these children.
Radiation therapy is the delivery of high-energy particles, known as x-rays, to kill cancer cells. The beams are concentrated and focused with special machines which help to reduce the amount of normal body tissues that are affected. Radiation therapy is delivered through multiple sessions that occur several days a week for several weeks. For pediatric patients, in order to make sure the radiation therapy is only delivered to the tissues that need it, a treatment session may require sedation to help the child lie perfectly still. Here at the University of Florida, we have access to a highly specialized form of radiation therapy known as Proton Therapy, which makes it possible to give radiation therapy in an even more focused way.
The last major component for the successful treatment of a brain cancer is chemotherapy. Chemotherapy are medicines that specifically target cancer cells to kill them. Chemotherapies are extremely powerful and must be given under the direction of a physician to assure that the best combinations are used. In addition to the delivery of chemotherapy, our neuro-oncologist also works with the family to assure that any additional services are best used like physical therapy for rehabilitation, neuropsychology for neurocognitive testing, and palliative care when the care and comfort of the entire family is needed.
Research at the University of Florida in the treatment of brain tumor looks to develop treatments that are more successful than the ones we have currently and that may be able to cure patients without causing as many unintended side effects and long-term problems.
Neurofibromatosis and Hereditary Cancer Syndromes
The syndromes of Neurofibromatosis, Tuberous Sclerosis, von Hippel-Lindau, and various others are conditions that may be associated with brain tumors and other solid tumors.
Neurofibromatosis is characterized by multiple or large coffee brown birthmarks known as “café-au-lait spot,” freckling in the armpits, multiple non-cancerous growths under the skin known as neurofibromas, and both cancerous and non-cancerous tumors of the brain and of the optic nerve, in particular.
Tuberous Sclerosis is characterized by birthmarks on the skin known as “ash-leaf spots” that are light in color, with seizures and cancerous tumors known as subependymal giant cell astrocytomas (SEGA) and non-cancerous tumors in organs throughout the body known as tubers.
Unlike the previous conditions, there may be no characteristic feature for patients with von Hippel Lindau but the syndrome may be associated with both cancerous and non-cancerous tumors. The care of these hereditary cancer syndromes requires a great deal of expertise and careful coordination from a team of experts.
The clinic for patients with Neurofibromatosis and other Hereditary Cancer Syndromes is held at UF Health Shand’s Children’s Hospital every 2 weeks on Tuesdays.