Ependymomas are the third most common form of childhood brain and spine tumours. Most occur in young infants and children. The majority occur in the brain, often they are seen in the back part of the brain (the posterior fossa).
• According to figures from CERN (Collaborative Ependymoma Research Network) approximately 280 children and 50 teenagers are diagnosed per year with the disease.
How do ependymomas form?
Although the cause of ependymoma is not yet known, scientists believe they develop from precursor cells to the ependymal cells. These cells line the ventricles (fluid-filled spaces in the brain) and the central canal of the spinal cord.
Sometimes, tumour cells can spread in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). They may spread to one or multiple areas in the brain, spine, or both.
Although it is rare, the tumour can spread to other parts of the body.
Surgically removing the tumour is usually the first step if possible. If all visible tumour is removed there is a better chance for long-term survival.
In children, staged surgeries are frequently used. In staged surgeries, instead of trying to remove all of the tumour at once, neurosurgeons will remove a small section. Then they shrink the tumour with chemotherapy or radiation therapy. They may then try to surgically remove the rest of the tumour.
Radiation treatment is used frequently to treat ependymoma. This process uses external beams of X-rays, gamma rays or protons aimed at the tumour to kill cancer cells and shrink tumours. The treatment is usually given over a period of several weeks. Delivery techniques target the tumour while protecting nearby healthy tissue.
Radiation treatment in children can have serious long-term effects on the brain and other organs.
Although ependymoma does not respond as effectively to chemotherapy as other types of cancer, unlike tumours in adults, many children with brain or spine tumours are highly sensitive to the effects of chemotherapy and respond well to high doses of it. However, giving a child high-dose or intensive chemotherapy can cause serious damage to bone marrow. Special precautions are taken to minimize damage.
Chemotherapy is typically administered through a special, long-lasting IV line. Chemotherapy may require frequent hospital stays. Although chemotherapy has many short-term side effects, it has fewer long-term side effects than radiation therapy.
For more information visit www.cern-foundation.org/