Children born with a form of brain tumour are fewer than one per every 1,000 babies, but it can turn into adult-onset, and even life-threatening condition
Pediatric brain tumors are rare but serious conditions in infants, doctor says
A neurosurgeon advising the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on pediatric brain tumors gave urgent warnings to children about developing such advanced, deadly forms of the tumours during a live online chat with parents on Monday.
While the majority of children who develop a brain tumour are merely “incredibly rare”, the most serious form can turn into a life-threatening condition, Dr Lianne Hahn said.
Clinical signs of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia – or acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, a cancer of the blood – can appear before a child even hits the age of one, she said. In another form of pediatric brain cancer, neuroblastoma, the mother of a child under 18 was almost certain to find a lump that was raised higher and “darker than skin”.
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Hahn, a thoracic surgeon with Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, is an expert in the history of pediatric cancers, common cancers and appropriate exposure of parents to social norms. She is a member of the president’s council on women and families of the American Cancer Society.
She added that children who have grown up in wealthy, educated environments may be more reluctant to find out if they have cancer, particularly so early in life. Some parents also lack trust in the medical system.
“Some people are in denial,” she said.
Hahn also discussed how the three types of childhood brain cancer – astrocytoma, neuroblastoma and diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma – each share genetic similarities and could be named after the Roman figurine sculptures. More than two thirds of astrocytomas and 80% of neuroblastomas are caused by the same strain of human papillomavirus, which is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. About 3% of neuroblastomas and about 2% of astrocytomas are associated with inherited genetic mutations.
Asked about how much testing should be done before the child is referred to a specialist for further examination, Hahn responded: “One of the things you probably heard me say, and I do agree with it, is that my belief is no more than 100 tests should be done before you refer a child to a specialist in pediatric neuro-oncology.”
Hahn pointed out that about 1.2% of neuroblastoma and astrocytoma patients experience persistent symptoms, including malaise, confusion, vision problems, seizures and bleeding. However, 94% of children who have the cancer never see a specialist.
A 2011 analysis of 5,200 cancer cases in the general population found that less than one percent of children with brain tumors were diagnosed with cancer in adolescence or adulthood. Hahn said that children’s cancers in infancy or childhood are less frequent, but still strike when childhood is at its most formative.