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Brain tumours| are the most common tumours that develop in children. Children of any age may be affected. About 400 children in the UK develop brain tumours each year. Boys are affected slightly more often than girls.
More children than ever are surviving childhood cancer. There are new and better drugs and treatments. But it remains devastating to hear that your child has cancer, and at times it can feel overwhelming. There are many healthcare professionals and support organisations to help you through this difficult time.
Understanding more about the cancer your child has and the treatments that may be used can often help parents to cope. We hope you find the information here helpful. Your child's specialist will give you more detailed information. If you have any questions it’s important to ask the specialist doctor or nurse who knows your child’s individual situation.
Brain tumours can be either primary or secondary. Primary brain tumours develop in the brain. Secondary brain tumours| happen when cancer cells from a cancer that started somewhere else in the body spread to the brain.
These will depend on the size of the tumour, where it is and how it affects that part of the brain.
There’s only a fixed amount of space in the skull for the brain. So as a tumour grows, there’s a rise in pressure in or around the brain (raised intracranial pressure). This can cause symptoms such as:
Brain tumours can also cause problems with balance and walking, weakness down one side of the body, or changes in behaviour. There’s often a simple explanation for many of the symptoms we’ve mentioned. But if your child has any of these or you’re worried, it’s important to see your family doctor (GP) straight away.
Side view of the head
View a large copy of the diagram of the side view of the head|
The areas of the brain
View a large copy of the diagram of the areas of the brain|
The causes of brain tumours are unknown but research is ongoing.
Your child will need to have different tests and will usually see different specialists. Having tests and waiting for results takes time and can be frustrating. Tests are very important because they help the specialist to plan the best treatment for your child.
Knowing what a test involves can make things a bit easier. The specialist doctor and nurse will explain things but don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Our section on children’s cancers| gives more information about what the tests and scans involve.
The specialist will also examine the back of your child’s eyes with an instrument that has a light on the end of it (ophthalmoscope) to check for swelling. This can be a sign of raised pressure in the brain. They’ll usually check other things like balance, coordination, sensation and reflexes. Your child may also need to have their eyesight and hearing tested, as well as some other tests.
Your child may have some of these tests:
These will show a detailed picture of the inside of the brain.
This shows the structure of the blood vessels in the brain and is sometimes used to help plan surgery.
This involves taking a sample of cerebrospinal fluid from the spinal cord and checking it for cancer cells.
These are usually done to check your child’s general health and can also be used to help diagnose a type of tumour called a germ cell tumour.
It’s often necessary for doctors to remove a small part of the tumour (biopsy) to find out exactly what type of tumour it is. It means your child will need to go into hospital for an operation under general anaesthetic. The piece of tumour that’s removed is then examined under a microscope by an expert doctor called a pathologist.
A biopsy isn’t always done. The type of tumour can be identified after an operation to remove the whole tumour, or part of it.
This depends on the treatment your child has and your child’s doctor and specialist nurse will explain more about what to expect. Always let them know about any side effects your child is having. Many side effects can be well controlled or made easier.
Some possible common side effects of radiotherapy and chemotherapy include:
Both radiotherapy and chemotherapy can cause hair loss|. Your child’s hair will usually grow back again after treatment is over.
Tiredness| is very common with both treatments and may continue for weeks after chemotherapy or radiotherapy finishes.
Radiotherapy and chemotherapy may make you feel sick|, this but it can usually be controlled well with anti-sickness drugs, which the oncologist will prescribe for your child.
Chemotherapy can increase the risk of infection|, so it’s important to contact the oncologist or specialist nurse straightaway if your child has a temperature, any signs of infection or suddenly feels unwell.
Skin may become red, flaky or sore if your child has fair skin and may become darker and flaky if your child has dark skin. You’ll be given advice on looking after the skin in the treated area.
Many children have their treatment as part of a clinical research trial. Trials aim to improve our understanding of the best way to treat an illness, usually by comparing the standard treatment with a new or modified version. Specialist doctors carry out many trials for brain tumours. If appropriate, your child's medical team will talk to you about taking part in a clinical trial, and will answer any questions you have. Written information is often provided to help explain things.
Taking part in a research trial is completely voluntary, and you'll be given plenty of time to decide if it's right for your child. There’s more information in our section on children’s cancers.
Sometime treatments may cause possible long-term side effects| that may develop later. Your child’s oncologist or specialist nurse will explain the possible risk of any long-term effects in your child’s situation. Children are monitored for any long-term problems following treatment so that they can be picked up and managed early on.
There’s is more detailed information about this in our section on children’s cancers|.
As a parent, the fact that your child has cancer is one of the worst situations you can be faced with. You may have many emotions, such as fear, guilt, sadness, anger and uncertainty. These are all normal reactions| and are part of the process that many parents go through at such a difficult time.
It's not possible to address in this section all of the feelings you may have. However, our information on children’s cancer talks about the emotional impact of caring for a child with cancer and suggests sources of help and support.
Your child may have a variety of powerful emotions throughout their experience of cancer. Our section on children’s cancers discusses this further and talks about how you can support your child|.
CCLG| coordinates research and care for children and their parents. There are 21 CCLG specialist centres for the treatment of childhood cancer and leukaemia, covering all areas of the UK and Ireland (there's a map of the centres| on the website). Has information about the CCLG, childhood cancer and leukaemia.
HeadSmart |is a project that aims to enhance the awareness of symptoms of brain tumours in children and young people.
This section has been compiled using information from a number of reliable sources, including:
Reviewing information is just one of the ways you could help when you join our Cancer Voices| network.
We worked with the Children's Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG) to write our information about children's cancer.
Content last reviewed: 1 January 2013
Next planned review: 2015
For answers, support or just a chat, call the Macmillan Support Line free (Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm)
If you have any questions about cancer, need support or just want someone to talk to, ask Macmillan.
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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