Brain stem cancer is a disease in which malignant cells develop in the tissues of the brain stem; part of the brain that connects to the spinal cord. This part of the brain controls basic functions such as breathing, blood pressure, heart rate as well as motor functions like eating, walking, seeing, and talking.
Mostly referred to as brain stem gliomas, this is a brain stem cancer in which tumors are formed from glial cells. Although brain tumors are not known to spread, this type grows quickly and are more likely to spread to other parts of the brain. They range in two types of tumors which include high-grade and low-grade.
This type of brainstem cancer features more in children between 3 to 10 years of age. Adult brain stem gliomas are rare and poorly understood in contrast to their children counterpart. Research has shown that this brain cancer is more aggressive in children than in adults.
Symptoms associated with brain stem cancer can develop slowly and subtly allowing the diseases to go unnoticed for months. However, there have been cases where the symptoms develop quickly.
• Double Vision
• Facial weakness
• Limbs weakness/paralysis
• Gait disturbance
• Nausea and vomiting
Although other brain cancers can cause such symptoms, it’s crucial to get an accurate diagnosis from a doctor.
In children, the diagnosis of the brain stem cancer usually requires an MRI scan or at times a CT scan. This gives a detailed image of the brain stem allowing doctors to detect any tumor. However, if the symptoms are not conclusive, it may require a paediatric neurosurgeon to extract tissue samples for analysis. This is done by drilling a small hole at the back of the head, slightly above the neck then inserting a needle to extract.
Since the brain stem is the most crucial part of the brain, surgery may not be an option because the procedure may damage the delicate tissues. The other option is radiation therapy, which can slow down the growth of the tumor.
Although chemotherapy is an option, it’s limited to the management of high-grade tumors or later stages.