Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation
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of childhood brain tumors
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Treatment Overview

Can a child with a brain tumor be cured?
What is the first thing I should do to help my child?
What are the treatments used for pediatric brain tumors?
Our doctor said that she has sought additional opinions. Should I get a second opinion anyway?
Do I need to tell my doctor about dietary supplements that I want to give my child to try to help treat the tumor?
Are vitamins off limits?
Are doctors open to the use of complementary medicine for treating my child’s pain and stress?
How can I help my child deal with the stress and depression associated with treatment?
What happens if my child’s brain tumor recurs or existing tumor grows larger?

Can a child with a brain tumor be cured?
Yes, there are absolutely children who have been “cured,” meaning they have remained tumor-free for many years, but the probability of this depends on the type and grade of brain tumor. However, even children with some types of aggressive brain tumors have been cured. Depending on the area of the brain that has been affected and the type of treatment they’ve needed, some children go on to function very well both at school and in their social lives. Also encouraging are recent developments in our understanding of the biology of brain tumors that doctors hope will lead to more effective treatments.

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What’s the first thing I should do to help my child?
You need to find out if the medical center where your child is diagnosed is an appropriate place for his or her treatment. The care of children with brain tumors can be complex and requires input from multiple types of specialists (including neurosurgeons, oncologists, radiation oncologists, endocrinologists, and many others). It’s important to confirm that your medical center has this expertise and is comfortable treating children with brain tumors.

Some families travel to different cities or even out of state for surgery, radiation and follow-up. Other children are treated at centers close to home. Parents can obtain second opinions by having their child’s charts and imaging couriered to hospitals recognized as having nationally acclaimed pediatric brain tumor centers. Your child’s doctor can advise you on whether your child should be treated at a different hospital.

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What are the treatments used for pediatric brain tumors?
The treatments used for pediatric brain tumors include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Different tumor types respond differently to these treatments, so the specific plan for your child’s tumor depends on the specific diagnosis. Although some types of tumors, such as CNS germ cell tumors, can be cured without surgery, the priority is usually to surgically remove as much of the tumor as safely possible.

If the tumor is located in a position where surgery is not feasible, other treatments will be explored. Surgery may be ruled out in favor of other systemic therapies (chemotherapy or radiation therapy) if the tumor has metastasized (spread) throughout the brain and spine. In cases like these, getting a second opinion may be particularly helpful.

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Our doctor said that she has sought additional opinions. Should I get a second opinion anyway?
Doctors routinely consult with their colleagues at their own hospital as well as other medical centers when it comes to challenging cases, so many second and third opinions are provided without the patient’s family being aware of them. However, families might not be included in these exchanges and many parents prefer for that information to be given to them directly.

Don’t hesitate to push for second opinions if you want them; most doctors understand and respect parents’ need to have them. Be sure that the second medical center has all the required information, such as the doctor’s summary, charts and imaging. If possible, it’s especially helpful to have your child evaluated in person by the consulting doctor (in addition to a review of your child’s records), but that is often not feasible.

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Do I need to tell the doctor about dietary supplements that I want to give my child to try to help treat the tumor?
It’s very important that you tell the doctor about alternative medicines you would like your child to take. While doctors are generally quite sensitive to parents’ desire to help their child get better, some alternative medicines may pose serious side effects that can delay standard treatments, giving the tumor more time to grow. Keep in mind that supplements marketed as a cure have not been proven safe and effective in clinical trials.

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Are vitamins off limits?
While most doctors are fine with a daily multivitamin, there is concern about taking vitamins A, E and C, as well as other antioxidants (nutrients that protect and repair cells from damage) like selenium and co-enzyme Q10.

Although there’s evidence that having sufficient antioxidants might reduce the risk of getting some cancers, this may also make cancer treatment less effective. That’s because antioxidants prevent the formation of ions, electrically charged particles that damage the DNA in cells. When those cells are cancerous, damage to the DNA is the goal of radiation and chemotherapy, so taking antioxidants may weaken the effects of treatment. Ask your doctor when it might be safe to start vitamins or other supplements.

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Are doctors open to the use of complementary medicine for treating my child’s pain and stress?
Most doctors recognize that complementary medicine such as massage, guided imagery and biofeedback can be useful during your child’s treatment and recovery. In fact, many leading cancer hospitals have centers for integrative medicine with practitioners in specialties like yoga, nutrition and acupuncture. In working with any complementary or alternative health practitioner, make sure there is open communication with your child’s doctors.

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How can I help my child deal with the stress and depression associated with treatment?
Your hospital’s social worker and child-life specialist (not all hospitals have them) can assess your child’s well-being in a casual, friendly manner and offer age-appropriate support throughout treatment. They can also advise you how to talk to your child and any siblings about the cancer diagnosis, its treatment and other health-related concerns.

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What happens if my child’s brain tumor recurs or existing tumor grows larger?
For recurrent tumors, your child’s medical team will decide if surgical removal is feasible and whether it offers benefit to the child. Stereotactic radiosurgery, in which a large, precise dose of radiation is delivered in a single session or a few sessions, might be an alternative if the recurrent tumor is small. Note that despite the name, this is not surgery as we understand it, because no incision is made.

High-dose chemotherapy with autologous stem cell rescue, in which a patient’s own healthy stem cells can be collected before chemotherapy and used to stimulate bone marrow growth and allow higher doses of chemotherapy to be given, can be used for some patients with recurrent brain tumors. It is also used for some children with high risk tumors at the time of diagnosis.

For recurrent or refractory tumors, additional radiation therapy may be a possibility, depending on the details of the previous treatment, including how much time has elapsed since it was given.

Your oncologist may also consider targeted therapies or immunotherapy (treatments that stimulate the body’s immune response). Both therapies are being tested for safety and effectiveness in clinical trials.

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