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Brain Tumor Awareness Month

More than 3,000 children across the country are diagnosed each year with central nervous system tumors.  When brain cells grow abnormally or out of control, a tumor can form. If the tumor puts pressure on certain areas of the brain, it can affect how the body functions. 

Although there are many different types of brain tumors, doctors don’t know what causes them. Researchers believe that genetics and the environment may play a role. Doctors categorize a tumor based on its location, the type of cells involved and how quickly it grows. Some are cancerous while others are not.

The Pediatric Neuro-Oncology Program at Children’s of Alabama is the only program of its kind in the state and treats more than 300 children diagnosed with brain tumors. It is one of the largest programs in the Southeast.

When discovered early enough, brain tumors are usually treatable. Dr. Elizabeth Alva, assistant professor of pediatrics, said that there are different types of options depending on the kind of tumor.

Treatment requires a multidisciplinary approach and the appropriate treatment varies by the type of brain tumor,” she said. “Through our multidisciplinary team, we are able to provide the best care available to patients with brain tumors.”

Many slow-growing tumors are cured with surgery alone. Faster-growing tumors might need additional treatment with radiation therapy, chemotherapy or both.

One of the most exciting treatments currently happening at Children’s is the oncolytic virotherapy trial using herpes simplex virus. This approach is only available at Children’s and is evidence of Children’s commitment to providing more treatment opportunities for patients with difficult to treat recurrent or progressive brain tumors.

Signs and Symptoms

A brain tumor can cause symptoms by directly pressing on the surrounding parts of the brain that control certain body functions or by causing a buildup of spinal fluid and pressure throughout the brain. Signs or symptoms vary depending on a child’s age and the location of the tumor. They include:

  • vomiting
  • seizures
  • weakness of the face, trunk, arms or legs
  • slurred speech
  • difficulty standing or walking
  • poor coordination
  • headache
  • in babies and young toddlers, a rapidly enlarging head

 

Because symptoms might develop gradually and can be like those of other common childhood illnesses, brain tumors can be difficult to diagnose. If there are ever concerns about symptoms a child is having, a physician should be contacted right away.

For more information, visit childrensal.org/neuro-oncology.

Children’s of Alabama is a member of the Children’s Oncology Group (COG) that provides patients the opportunity to participate in the latest clinical trials and advanced care for pediatric brain tumors.  In addition, they are one of only 21 COG sites designated as a Phase 1 institution, which offers patients with brain tumors and other cancers with the newest therapies not available at other institutions and help further advance the knowledge of new treatments. Children’s clinical trials are open through the National Experimental Therapeutics (NEXT) Consortium, including the newest Head Start 4 protocol, which aims to improve the cure rates and quality of survival with young patients diagnosed with medulloblastoma and primitive neuro-ectodermal tumors.  

Scoliosis

Scoliosis is an abnormal side to side curvature of the spine. Instead of a straight line, it may form more of an “S” shape or “C” shape.  Scoliosis usually occurs during the growth spurt just before puberty.

Angela Doctor is a registered nurse and the Scoliosis Screening Coordinator for Children’s of Alabama.  In 1984, the state of Alabama mandated that all public school students between the ages of 11 and 14 be screened for scoliosis. “The importance of scoliosis screening is early detection,” Doctor says. “Children are doing a lot of growing during the adolescent period, so our goal is to halt the progression of scoliosis.”

Types of Scoliosis

Doctor says there are three types of scoliosis. The most common is adolescent idiopathic, in which case the cause is unknown.  But scoliosis can congenital, caused by a defect at birth, or due to a neuromuscular disease like cerebral palsy.

Treatment

For most children, scoliosis is not a problem. Some may require ongoing monitoring.  But a curve that gets worse can be bad for a child’s health. If an orthopedic specialist determines treatment is necessary, the options include a back brace to halt the deformity, or spinal surgery.

Possible Signs

Parents may wonder if their child has scoliosis. Doctor says signs to look for include:

-Uneven shoulders

-Uneven scapulas

-Uneven waist and hips

-One side of the back higher than the other when bending forward

If a parent suspects their child may have scoliosis, they should see their pediatrician.  He or she may refer the child to an orthopedic specialist to confirm a diagnosis and decide whether treatment is necessary.

It’s crucial to identify scoliosis early while the spine is still growing. When treatment is over, people with scoliosis are able to live full and active lives.