Signs of childhood brain cancer parents should look out for as NHS approves new treatment

By Staff 8 Min Read

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has approved the use of a combination of dabrafenib and trametinib for treatment of gliomas in children and young people

A new drug has been approved for use on the NHS to help support children with brain tumours.

According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which has approved the use of a combination of dabrafenib and trametinib for treatment, studies indicated that the side effects of chemotherapy were reduced and improved patient survival time without the disease progressing.

But for children and young people, gliomas are the most common type of brain cancer. It is developed from the glial cells, which support the nerve cells of the spinal cord and brain.

The research also found that less than 30% of children with this tumour live beyond five years.

So what exactly is it and what symptoms should parents look out for to spot it early? Medical experts share everything you need to know…

What is brain cancer, in particular gliomas?

Ana Carolina Goncalves, superintendent pharmacist at Pharmica, says brain cancer involves the growth of abnormal cells in the brain tissue that multiply uncontrollably, forming a mass known as a tumour. “A tumour is essentially a cluster of cells that grow and divide more than they should or do not die when they should. These brain tumours can be categorised as either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous),” said Goncalves

“Benign tumours are typically slower growing, do not spread to other parts of the body, and once removed, they usually do not reoccur. Malignant tumours, on the other hand, grow rapidly, invade nearby tissue, and often spread to other areas of the body. Gliomas are a common type of tumour originating in the brain.

“Research suggests about 33% of all brain tumours are gliomas, which originate in the glial cells that surround and support neurons in the brain, including astrocytes, oligodendrocytes, and ependymal cells. Gliomas are categorised based on the type of glial cell involved, their growth potential, and their level of aggressiveness.”

Why are gliomas the most common type of brain cancer found in children and young people?

Dr Peter Abel, senior lecturer in the school of pharmacy and biomedical sciences at the University of Central Lancashire, said that we can’t say for certain what causes glioma.

“However, there is a hereditary component that can make some children more susceptible to developing a brain tumour. For example, there is a genetic condition known as neurofibromatosis that causes tumours to grow along the nerves, which can increase the risk of a brain tumour developing,” said Abel.

Goncalves also added that during childhood and adolescence, the brain is still developing and changing, which involves the rapid and extensive growth of glial cells. “Studies show that the genetic structure of gliomas in children and young adults (which refers to the arrangement of DNA in the glioma) tends to be different to that of adult tumours,” she said.

“However, the current research surrounding this is inconclusive; the processes involved in the development of gliomas in children and young adults are complex and tend to be influenced by a combination of numerous factors, which is currently the subject of ongoing research.”

What are the early signs and symptoms parents should look out for

According to Abel, there are a number of symptoms that parents can look out for. “Headaches, seizures, vision problems, slurred speech or changes in behaviour can all indicate an underlying issue. Signs or symptoms can vary, however, and can depend on the specific location of the tumour,” he said.

“It’s important to speak to your GP about any concerns you have, as they will be able to conduct the relevant tests to determine whether there is something wrong.”

What treatment is available?

There are different grades of glioma, and some are more treatable than others. “Some low-grade tumours may be treated with surgery alone. Others may require numerous surgeries, or treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and proton beam radiotherapy,” said Abel.

“The location of the tumour is an important factor when it comes to treatment options. Some brain tumours cannot be removed by surgery, meaning that chemotherapy and radiation is the best course of action. Cancer treatment is continuously advancing. More children are now being cured of cancer than ever before, and doctors are always looking for new, more effective treatment methods.”

Share This Article
Leave a comment