Understanding brain tumors in infants

Four-year-old Isheja Gasana had been struggling with a brain tumor for two years until he underwent successful correction surgery at Apollo Hospital in India recently.

Four-year-old Isheja Gasana had been struggling with a brain tumor for two years until he underwent successful correction surgery at Apollo Hospital in India recently.

According to Christine Kayiteesi, the mother, Gasana could hardly sit, eat well, see, and in addition, the neck muscles were too weak to stand erect due to the condition.

“However, I am glad that the kid is healthier except for some wounds which are progressively healing,” she says.

Kayiteesi adds that the disease attacked her child when he was only two.

“It took us long to discover that our child had a brain tumor. This was after doing a radiography,” she says.

Dr Fidel Rubagumya, a training oncologist and a PhD candidate at Muhimbiri University-Tanzania, says brain child cancers (trauma) are untraceable. However, he says a big percentage of the children get brain tumors from inherited genetic mutation - a disease gene that can be passed from the parents to the children.

He adds that this is because during childhood, infants are exposed to the environmental factors such as cigarettes, asbestos, and ultra -violent radiation, which are the top causes of the brain tumors among adults.

However, Rubagumya says pre-natal treatments of pregnant mothers, especially those who were exposed to the x-rays, as well as children who were exposed to diagnostic medical radiation from computed tomography scans after birth have increased chances of getting the brain tumors.

According to Dr Charles Nuwagaba, a pediatrician at Polyfame Twese Hamwe Polyclinic, Kigali, the most common types of brain tumors in children are astrocytoma, medulloblastoma and ependymoma.

He says they mostly affect people between the ages 2 and 20, with symptoms like headaches, seizures, memory loss, and other symptoms which depend on the size and the location of the tumor.

Nuwagaba adds that brain tumors among children are treatable and that the most common ways to treat them are chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery.

He advises parents to intensively involve in the follow-up care and do enhanced medical surveillance for the rest of their lives because of the health risks that could come after many years.

“Children who are diagnosed with brain tumor and bone cancers have higher risks of serious longer-term effects from their cancer treatment, including second cancers, hearing loss and congestive heart failures,” Nuwagaba says.

Jean Claude Mutabazi, the Executive Director, Rwanda Children Cancer Relief, says over exposure to pesticides and perfumes increases the risk of brain tumors among children.

According to researchers from the French Institute of Health and Medical Research, who analysed 3,539 children under 15 years, exposure to pesticides in pregnancy increases a child’s risk of developing brain tumors by 1.4 times. Insecticides, which specifically kill insects as opposed to termites, fungi or rodents, are particularly dangerous.

The researchers believe this may be due to insecticides being more commonly used in inorganic farming. They add that pesticides may cause childhood brain tumors if they contain cancer-causing compounds that cross the placenta.

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