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Types of brain tumors in young children
Medulloblastoma and ependymal tumors account for about 50 percent of tumors. Most of these tumors likely develop after birth. They peak in incidence before age 5. Atypical teratoid / rhabdoid and choroid plexus tumors are most commonly found in children younger than 2.
Primary tumors of the central nervous system account for about 8 percent of cancer in infants and 3 percent of malignant tumors observed in newborns.
Children younger than 3 who are diagnosed with brain tumors are particularly challenging to treat. Brain tumors in young children tend to grow quickly and their prognosis usually is much poorer than for older patients. Medulloblastoma tumors are prone to spread throughout the brain and spine. Treatment approaches must focus on controlling not only local disease but disease in all sites of the nervous system. This often requires treatment to be aimed at the entire nervous system in the young child and heightens the likelihood of treatment-related brain injury.
For infants, the most common symptom is rapidly expanding head size and bulging fontanel (membrane covered opening in an infant’s skull.) Because of the expandability of the skull of an infant, symptoms of intracranial pressure, other than vomiting, are rare in infants.
Drawbacks of traditional therapy
Based on the experience gained in several studies at St. Jude, researchers have designed a new approach to the treatment of children younger than 3. It includes intensive chemotherapy as well as the early and planned use of smaller and more confined fields of radiation therapy. The use of conformal radiation therapy allows more tightly focused radiation with less of a dose delivered to surrounding healthy brain tissue.
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