What is a Pontine Glioma?
A pontine glioma is a highly aggressive tumor arising in the pons, an important part of the brain stem. This type of cancer is most commonly seen in children, accounting for as much as 15% of childhood cancers, and the prognosis for the patient is generally very poor, although treatments are available. At the earliest sign of neurological deficits in a developing child, a pediatrician should be consulted, as such symptoms may be a sign of a pontine glioma or another problem and early treatment can make a significant difference in the final outcome of the case.
Children between the ages of five and nine are most likely to develop a pontine glioma. The growth arises in glial cells in the brain stem, which are responsible for controlling movement and gait, and the child may develop generalized weakness, headaches, and poor muscle control. The symptoms tend to onset very quickly, within a matter of weeks, and the child can experience a very rapid decline in physical health as the tumor grows and puts pressure on the brain.
Brain scans will clearly reveal the presence of the tumor. Pontine glioma is not considered operable and it does not respond well to chemotherapy, leaving radiation as the most effective treatment. In radiation therapy, the tumor is bombarded with radioactive material to kill the tumor cells and prevent the cancer from spreading. Radiation therapy can be accompanied with side effects like nausea, vomiting, and hair loss.
This cancer is considered a high grade tumor because it grows quickly and is highly invasive. Many patients do not survive for more than a year with a pontine glioma, even if they initially respond well to treatment. Patients diagnosed with this condition may benefit from seeing a brain cancer specialist, who will have access to the latest information about treatment and management of tumors in the brain. The specialist may also have information about clinical trials.
Participation in a clinical trial can be a good option for a patient with pontine glioma. Most patients enjoy good health prior to the development of the tumor and are considered good candidates for such trials. Being in a trial gives people access to experimental medications and treatments that may improve the prognosis and will, at the very least, contribute to the development of better treatment for cancer patients.
Causes of pontine glioma are not well understood and parents should not blame themselves if their children develop this condition. While environmental factors may play a role and there can be a genetic component, it is likely that nothing could have been done to prevent the development of the tumor.
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