Targeted treatments to help children with brain cancer | Action Medical Research

Touching Lives - April 2014

Targeted treatments to help children with brain cancer

Iona and her mumIona was just five years old when she was diagnosed with a brain tumour. She went through 10 hours of surgery which left her with some brain damage and without the ability to produce important hormones.

Iona’s cancer affected various areas of her brain including the optic nerve, pituitary gland, hypothalamus and the brain stem. The majority of the tumour was removed but it was known that some cells had been left behind and after her surgery she had to take numerous medications.

Sadly, the tumour grew back a year later and Iona went on to endure a six-week course of daily radiotherapy. She lost large patches of hair, had extreme tiredness and suffered radiation burns. Due to the radiotherapy she has problems with perception and memory and the brain tumour itself has caused problems with eating, controlling temperature and sleeping.

Every six months she has a scan to monitor her brain tumour, which started growing again in 2011, and at some point surgery will be needed to treat the re-growth.

Despite her illness, Iona, now 11, recently started secondary school. She is very courageous and brave, a girl who rarely complains and faces things head on. She is extremely creative in drama, singing and dance and loves being outside on her swing and trampoline.

Each year in the UK around 400 children are diagnosed with brain cancer. Sadly, around one in four lose their lives within five years, making it the most deadly of all childhood cancers.

Many face prolonged and gruelling treatment, like Iona. But while this can prove life saving, it can also cause serious, long-term side effects on top of those that may be caused by the tumour itself.

Action is funding research, in partnership with The Brain Tumour Charity, to develop new ways to tailor treatment more closely to the needs of each individual child.

Led by Professor Andrew Peet in Birmingham, the team is developing a sophisticated technique to provide information on the chemical make-up of tumours. They aim to perfect a way to measure these chemicals during MRI scans, which are routinely used when children are first diagnosed.

This could allow doctors to predict how aggressive each child’s cancer is likely to be much sooner and more accurately. It could save the lives of children with the most aggressive cancers, while sparing those with less severe illness from unnecessary treatments.

Iona’s mum, Ann, says: “Iona has been through so much treatment which has left her with long-term learning difficulties including perception and memory problems. If more can be done to tailor treatments it could mean some children receive less treatment, reducing the risk of these long-term side effects. We were pleased to hear about the partnership between The Brain Tumour Charity and Action Medical Research to fund this vital research, which could help more families like us in future.”

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