What We Know:
Every year, nearly 2400 children are diagnosed with brain cancer in the US. For these children, surgical removal of the cancer (the most effective method of treatment) can be life-threatening. Even after successful treatment, many children can become disabled due to posterior fossa syndrome.
These problems arise specifically when a brain tumor has to be removed from the cerebellum, the back part of the brain that controls speech and coordination. The consequences can be devastating. Imagine a 7-year-old child who used to run around the playground with her friends, but now needs assistance to get out of bed every day. Or a bright young high schooler who loses the ability to talk.
“The goal of treating a child with a brain tumor is not simply to prolong life, but to maximize the child’s quality of life and help them realize their long-term potential,” says Dr. Aaron Boes, of the University of Iowa, lead researcher on this project.
Our Plan to Help:
Scientists have been aware of posterior fossa syndrome for over 60 years, yet very little progress has been made toward understanding its cause or how to prevent it.
“Given the limitations in our knowledge, the onset of posterior fossa syndrome is a legitimate cause of major anxiety at a vulnerable time in the child’s treatment course, not only for the child experiencing symptoms, but also the family and the care team,” Dr. Boes states.
Working with Harvard’s Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr. Boes will use a high-tech imaging system to study 115 children with brain cancer. Interviews will be performed before and after surgery in order to help find out the cause(s) of this debilitating loss of mental ability. Whether the location of the brain tumor affects the development of mental disability after surgery will also be investigated.