|Specialty Oncology||eMedicine neuro/40|
A brainstem glioma is a cancerous glioma tumor in the brainstem. Around 75% are diagnosed in children and young adults under the age of twenty, but have been known to affect older adults as well. Brainstem gliomas start in the brain or spinal cord tissue and typically spread throughout the nervous system.
The cause is still unknown. Researchers have not found any direct genetic link. Children irradiated for tinea capitis have been found to have an increased risk for other central nervous system tumors, such as meningiomas, gliomas, and nerve sheath tumors, but not necessarily tumors of the brain stem.
Signs and symptoms
Common symptoms include, but are not necessarily limited to:
Symptoms can develop slowly and subtly and may go unnoticed for months. In other cases, the symptoms may arise abruptly. A sudden onset of symptoms tends to occur with more rapidly growing, high-grade tumors.
Neuroimaging, such as MRI, is the main diagnostic tool for brain stem gliomas. In very rare cases, surgery and biopsy are performed.
Unlike most brain tumors, brainstem glioma is not often treated with neurosurgery due to complications in vital parts of the brain. More often, it is treated with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy (though past use of radiation therapy has yielded mixed results.)
There are several new clinical trials in process. One such trial is dendritic cell immunotherapy which uses the patient’s tumor cells and white blood cells to produce a chemotherapy that directly attacks the tumor.
However, these treatments do produce side effects; most often including nausea, the breakdown of the immune system, and fatigue. Hair loss can occur from both chemotherapy and radiation, but usually grows back after chemotherapy has ceased. Steroids such as Decadron may be required to treat swelling in the brain. Decadron can lead to weight gain and infection. Patients may also experience seizures, which need to be treated to avoid complications. For some patients there is a chance of a neurological break down, this can include, but is not limited to, confusion and memory loss.
The use of topotecan has been investigated.
Brainstem glioma is an aggressive and dangerous cancer. Without treatment, the life expectancy is typically a few months from the time of diagnosis. With appropriate treatment, 37% survive more than one year, 20% survive 2 years. and 13% survive 3 years.This is not for all brainstem glioma, this statistic reflects DIPG. There are other brainstem gliomas.