Brain and Spinal Tumor Treatment Options for Children
Thirty years ago, the chances of a child recovering from a brain tumor were slim. But today, with the advancements in treatment and technology, about 60 percent of children with brain and spinal cord tumors are cured. Our team has access to clinical trials and cutting-edge therapies and uses a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation to give children the best chance of beating cancer.
Treatment for brain and spinal tumors may include (alone or in combination):
- Neurosurgery: Surgery is usually the first step in the treatment of brain tumors. The goal is to remove as much of the tumor as possible while maintaining neurological function. Surgery for a biopsy may also be done to examine the types of cells the tumor is made of for a diagnosis. This is frequently done if the tumor is in an area with sensitive structures around it that may be injured during removal.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is the use of anticancer drugs to treat cancerous cells. Chemotherapy has been used for many years and is one of the most common treatments for cancer. In most cases, chemotherapy works by interfering with the cancer cell's ability to grow or reproduce. Different groups of drugs work in different ways to fight cancer cells.
- Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy (also called therapeutic radiology or radiation oncology) uses special kinds of energy waves or particles to fight cancer. Like surgery, radiation therapy is used in several ways depending on the type and location of the cancer. Certain levels of radiation work to destroy cancer cells or prevent cells from growing or reproducing. For patients who require radiation therapy, our partnership with Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale offers state-of-the-art radiation options, including proton beam therapy, which has advantages over conventional radiation treatment in reducing both short and long-term radiation-induced side effects. This is especially beneficial for children with brain tumors.
Bone marrow transplantation: Young healthy bone marrow cells also called stem cells are sometimes used in the treatment of brain tumors. Healthy stem cells are harvested from the patient during part of their therapy and stored. These cells are then later reinfused into the patient to “rescue” them after very high dose chemotherapy. This prevents the patient from being without a functioning immune system for a prolonged period of time and helps reduce infection risk.
- Supportive care (for the side effects of the tumor or treatment)
- Steroids (to treat and prevent swelling especially in the brain)
- Anti-seizure medication (to treat and prevent seizures associated with intracranial pressure)
- Ventriculoperitoneal shunt (Also called a VP shunt.)
A VP shunt may be placed in the head to drain excess fluid from inside the brain to the abdomen. A VP shunt helps control the pressure inside the brain.
- Rehabilitation (to regain lost motor skills and muscle strength; speech, physical, and occupational therapists may be involved in the healthcare team)
- Antibiotics (to treat and prevent infections)
- Continuous follow-up care: to manage disease, detect recurrence of the tumor and to manage late effects of treatment
- Clinical trials: The Neuro-oncology team at Phoenix Children’s Hospital is committed to improving survival for patients with brain tumors. We participate in Phase II and III clinical trials for brain tumor patients through the Children’s Oncology Group, and are a member of the HeadStart Consortium. We also conduct Phase I clinical trials through the Phase I consortium, POETIC. We have an ongoing investigator initiated Phase I clinical trial as well. Current research interests for our team as a whole also include personalized therapy using proteomics and genomics.
Long-term outlook for a child with a brain tumor
Prognosis greatly depends on:
The type of tumor.
The extent of the disease.
Size and location of the tumor.
Presence or absence of metastasis.
The tumor's response to therapy.
The age and overall health of your child.
Your child's tolerance of specific medications, procedures, or therapies.
New developments in treatment.
As with any cancer, prognosis and long-term survival can vary greatly from individual to individual. Prompt medical attention and aggressive therapy are important for the best prognosis. Continuous follow-up care is essential for a child diagnosed with a brain tumor. Side effects of radiation and chemotherapy, as well as second malignancies, can occur in survivors of brain tumors. We provide aftercare for our patients into early adulthood.
Rehabilitation for lost motor skill and muscle strength may be required for an extended amount of time. Speech therapists and physical and occupational therapists may be involved in some form of rehabilitation. More research is needed to improve treatment, decrease side effects of the treatment for this disease, and develop a cure. New methods are continually being discovered to improve treatment and to decrease side effects.