Brain tumors in teens can be associated with certain hereditary syndromes or exposure to radiation. However, the exact cause is not always known. Brain and spinal tumors are common in children and adolescents. Many teens may develop symptoms such as persistent headaches and vomiting, and the diagnosis may reveal these abnormal growths in the brain. It can be stressful to deal with illnesses such as brain tumors in your child, but understanding the details and seeking support from friends, family, counselors, and support groups can help you deal with the fears and anxieties. Read on to learn more about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of brain tumors in teenagers.
What Is Brain Tumor?
Young children usually develop new cells for growth and repair of any damaged tissues. But when unwanted cells grow in number and multiply inside the body, it is abnormal. Such an abnormal growth of cells inside the body is called a tumor. A brain tumor is abnormal cell growth in the brain and can affect children of any age. But not all tumors are cancers.
A tumor in the brain can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Benign tumors tend to grow slowly and do not come back after they are removed through treatment. Malignant tumors spread quickly and can come back even after they are completely removed, warranting further treatment to contain it. Unfortunately, both types of tumors can be life-threatening.
There are over 130 types of brain cancers (1), and the treatment for each type of cancer varies based on the size of the tumor, its location and whether or not it is malignant. While childhood cancers are not common, a brain tumor is one of the most common cancers that children aged 0-14 can get (2). Brain tumors that begin in the brain are known as primary brain tumors, and those that start in other parts of the body before entering the brain are metastatic.
What Causes Brain Tumors In Teenagers?
Researchers have not yet been able to identify specific causes of a brain tumor in teenagers. However, some studies suggest a link between the use of mobile phones and cancers in children. Also, children with genetic disorders such as neurofibromatosis type 1 and type 2, tuberous sclerosis complex, and others have a higher incidence of brain tumors.
According to the US National Brain Tumor Society, brain tumors are the leading cause of cancer-related death among children aged 0-19 years. How or why so many kids are affected is something even the doctors do not know for sure.
Symptoms Of Brain Tumor In Teenagers
The symptoms and signs of a brain tumor in teenagers may vary based on the tumor’s size, location, type, and how it affects the messages sent by that particular part of the brain to the other parts.
- A headache is one of the most common symptoms of a brain tumor. The skull has only a limited amount of space in which the brain is located. However, as a brain tumor grows, it leads to a rise in the pressure inside or around the brain, leading to an unbearable pain in the head. Sometimes the affected teens may experience this pain even in their sleep. Symptoms more suggestive of tumors include headaches from sleep or present upon wakening, worsening frequency and severity, etc. Note that brain tumors are very uncommon compared to the frequency of headaches.
- A seizure is also one of the common symptoms of brain tumor.The type of seizure is dependent upon its location. All children with seizures should undergo neuroimaging to ensure that there is no underlying tumor.
Other common symptoms of a brain tumor include:
3. Nausea and vomiting, which will mostly occur in the mornings. Sometimes, your teen may feel relieved from a headache after vomiting.
- Your teen’s growth and development can be affected, as certain tumor can influence the hormone levels in the body.
Sudden or significant sensory changes could also be a sign of a tumor in the brain.
- Discomfort in the eyes, such as blurry vision or having double vision.
- Your kid may have a problem speaking clearly. If your teen is not able to speak properly due to the brain tumor, you will notice a type of slurred sound when they speak.
- A change in taste and appetite can result in sudden weight loss.
- Your teen may also experience a change in their senses of touch and feel, affecting their ability to feel any pain, pressure, or changes in the temperature.
- Your teen may also have problems with hearing. They may ask you to speak louder or turn up the TV too loud. In some cases, they may not be able to hear you at all. As a result, they may not respond to you, which can be misinterpreted as regular teen behavior.
Behavioral or emotional changes and personality changes can also occur due to a tumor in the brain.
- Feeling tired and irritable all the time without any apparent reason.
- Not being interested in regular day-to-day activities like going to school, socializing, studying, etc., that otherwise interest your teen.
- Your teen may also find it tough to concentrate on anything for long and, as a result, may lose interest in everything.
- Feeling very sleepy or drowsy at all times, even if your teen has slept and rested well the previous night.
- Problems with behavior, emotions, and memory. Some patients feel depressed.
In case the tumor is in the spinal cord, you can observe the following symptoms in your teen:
- Difficulty in maintaining balance due to pain, weakness or numbness in the legs and arms. Your teen may also feel weak on one side of the body and not be able to function well from that side. There may be associated back pain or pain in other locations depending upon the nerves involved.
- Problems retaining or passing urine or stool.
- Teenage boys may also have a problem getting an erection.
Most of these symptoms may also indicate other ailments. So, how do you know if it is a brain tumor?
If you see any of the above symptoms in your teen, get a proper and thorough diagnosis done by a medical professional.
Diagnosis Of Brain Tumor In Teenagers
When the doctor suspects a tumor in the brain, he or she may recommend some tests to diagnose the condition. The first step is usually gathering data about the symptoms through a series of questions about balance, coordination, sensory abilities, and reflexes. In addition to that:
- A basic pinprick test may be done to check for the absence of sensation or feeling in any part of the body.
- X-rays to check skull and spine or chest.
- An MRI or a CT scan to get a detailed picture of the head and/ or spine.
- Lumbar puncture to collect spinal fluid may be indicated.
- Blood tests and other laboratory tests to check the general health of the teenager.
After the tumor is confirmed and removed, the doctor will send it for biopsy to determine whether or not it is malignant.
Undergoing so many tests is not going to be easy for a teenager and their parents. Waiting for the test results can be a scary ordeal as well. Rather than keeping your worries to yourself, talk to someone about your concerns. Getting your teenager to speak to a professional about his fears and doubts may also help them handle the situation in the best possible way.
Treating A Brain Tumor In Teens
The treatment for a brain tumor will depend on the type of the tumor and the stage it is in. Some of the most common procedures that are used to treat brain tumor are surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and proton therapy (3).
In the case of surgery, the doctors will remove parts of the tumor or the entire tumor if they think it is possible to do so without causing any damage to the teen’s brain.
Radiotherapy is a procedure in which X-rays and other forms of radiation are used to treat a condition. Doctors use radiotherapy to remove the tumor as well as any cells that are around the tumor. Radiotherapy is done if surgery is not possible. This procedure can also help to remove any cancer cells that may have remained after the surgery.
Chemotherapy is a procedure in which the doctors use chemical substances to shrink the tumor, and eventually remove it completely. A variety of chemotherapy drugs including cytotoxic are used in the procedure. The doctors will use the procedure to remove the tumor and any cells around the tumor in the brain. Chemotherapy is also done only if a surgery is not possible or to remove any left-over cancer cells.
4. A combination treatment
In some cases, the doctors may consider all the three types of treatment to treat the brain tumor. In such a case, the three treatments may either be used together or separately.
5. Proton therapy
All matter is made of tiny particles that we call atoms. The center of the atom is the nucleus which has the protons and the neutrons. The proton therapy involves in damaging and removing the tumor using proton beams. This advanced therapy is painless and allows the doctors to use high doses of radiation to remove the tumor, without damaging the surrounding healthy tissue.
Besides these procedures, your child may also have to take medications such as:
- Steroids to reduce inflammation in the brain caused by the tumor or the treatment procedure used to remove it.
- Anticonvulsant medications to prevent seizures.
In some cases, integrative treatments, which involve using conventional therapies and alternative therapies like naturopathy or homeopathy, may also be suggested. The best course of treatment for your teenaged child with a brain tumor should be decided with the help of a medical specialist.
Herbal Remedies To Boost Brain Tumor Treatment
The foods we eat also have an effect on how our body heals from illnesses. Eating healthy can help your teenager heal faster and help the medications to work better in removing the tumor. Please note that these remedies may not cure the illness or remove the tumor completely. But they will alleviate the symptoms and help in preventing the disease from spreading.
- A diet rich in folic acids can prevent the cancerous cells from spreading within the body. Include beans, rice, leafy vegetables and fruits like berries, oranges, cantaloupe and pomegranate in your teen’s diet.
- Fresh fruits, including blueberries, strawberries, and grapes are rich in antioxidants, which can prevent brain tumors.
- Inhaling Frankincense oil when performing stress reduction exercises like yoga and meditation help in alleviating the inflammation in the brain.
- Including cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale and cauliflower in the diet can help fight carcinogens.
- Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin, which is known to have cancer-fighting abilities. Adding turmeric to your everyday dishes is a good idea.
- Medicinal mushrooms can help strengthen your immunity and fight cancer in the body. Make sure you get the right kind of mushrooms that contain polysaccharides like beta glucan, lentinan, thioproline and lectin.
- Garlic, onions and leek are rich in allium compounds that can boost immunity and break the cancer cell activity. Chives also contain this compound. Including these ingredients in your diet can help your teen heal faster.
- Capsaicin, which is present in red chilies and jalapenos, helps in fighting cancerous growth and neutralizing cancer-causing compounds called nitrosamines.
Other foods you should include in the teenager’s diet are carrots, organic soy, avocados, nuts, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, purple corn, extra virgin olive oil and flax. Apples and green and black tea can also be good for people with a brain tumor.
Discuss with your physician before using any supplements, since some of them can interact with the medications used to treat the tumor, or increase the risk of complications from treatment.
How To Help Your Teen Cope With Brain Tumor?
A brain tumor is a serious condition that can turn your teen’s life, as well as yours, upside down. Whether the tumor is malignant or benign, treatment is a must. While the doctors treat your teen, you need to help the kid handle the stress and the trauma of having to deal with a life-threatening disease. Here is what you can do to help your teenager cope with a brain tumor.
1. Honest and open communication
Your teenager is almost an adult. So don’t treat him or her as a child by hiding the facts about their medical condition. Be open and honest about what the diagnosis is or could be, and the need for tests, medications and treatment procedures. This will also help them understand the situation and remove any irrational thoughts and fears from their mind.
2. Help them get answers
Being diagnosed with a brain tumor can trigger a lot of emotions – fear, confusion, anger or sadness. These overwhelming feelings affect your child’s thinking and fill their mind with doubts and concerns. Your teenager may have a lot of questions for you.
While you may not have answers to all these questions, you can help them talk to their doctors, specialists, and therapist to address their concerns and eliminate any irrational fears. Some of the things you may want them to understand are:
- A brain tumor is an illness and not their fault. They did not get it because of something wrong they did. It is NOT a punishment.
- A tumor is not contagious – you cannot get it from anyone, nor can you give it to anyone.
- Having a tumor does not change the person. Tell your teen that regardless of how they are, you love them the same.
Making sure that your teenager is alright is important. At the same time, do not overdo things or behave any differently after the diagnosis. That will only make them uncomfortable and unhappy.
3. One day at a time
The diagnostic tests, treatment schedules, changes in routines and a temperamental teen diagnosed with a brain tumor can be overwhelming and even scary at times. With the range of emotions that you and your teenager are likely to go through, there will be a lot of stress to deal with. At such a time, it is not always possible to stay positive.
But it is okay to feel stressed, angry, sad or scared. Just don’t let these emotions push you into a negative frame of mind. An effective way to deal with the situation is to take one step and one day at a time. That makes coping with all the condition a little easier.
4. Get siblings involved
When a teenager is diagnosed with brain tumor, the entire family is affected. In your attempt to take care of the child that is sick, you may unknowingly neglect the other kids. That can have negative repercussions on your relationship with the other kids.
To prevent that, get the other children involved as early as possible. Talk to them about what is happening – they need to know that their sibling is unwell and needs care. Ask them to cooperate and tell them that mommy and daddy have to be there for the brother or sister who is ill. At the same time, let them know you love them and that you are available for them too, although not as much as you were earlier.
It is also important to help them understand that the situation is temporary – things will be tough until their sibling gets better.
5. Support them through the physiological changes
Treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy have visible side-effects like hair loss, weight loss and changes in the skin. These things can make a teenager highly conscious of their appearance. Help them through these changes by talking to them, changing their wardrobe and letting them know that you love them regardless of their looks.
6. Healthy diet and mindset
Healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle (no smoking or alcohol around the teenager) create a conducive environment at home. Healthy eating and a positive atmosphere complement the treatment procedures that the child is undergoing. Research about the best diet for teens undergoing treatment for tumors– talk to the doctors and nutritionists for information.
7. Get help
You may be the bold and confident parent doing all that you can to deal with a brain tumor in your teenager. You could be the supermom running around hospitals or treatment centers and also taking care of the other kids at home.
But at the end of the day, you are human too. You need to take care of yourself, to be able to give your children the care they need. So take time out for yourself – talk to a therapist or a counselor to deal with the situation without losing your composure.
While the exact cause of brain tumors in teens is unknown, they can be hereditary or caused by radiation. You may notice headaches and seizures in your teen, as well as common symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and rapid sensory and behavioral changes. Your child’s doctor will offer treatment options based on the tumor’s development and severity after a correct diagnosis has been made. Finding a support group where you and your child can meet other people in similar situations is also a wonderful option. You will not only learn how to combat the disease but also how to deal with it better.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Can a teen survive a brain tumor?
The survival rate for teenage brain tumors depends on the type of tumor, grade, and age. However, individuals who develop tumors early tend to have better survival rates than those who develop them later in life (4).
2. Can stress lead to brain tumors?
There is insufficient evidence to prove a connection between stress and the development of brain tumors or cancers (5).
3. Can brain tumors occur at any age?
Yes, brain tumors may develop at any age; however, the risk of developing them increases with age. Furthermore, people over 80 are at increased risk of developing brain tumors (6).
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