Posted on February 04, 2015

World Cancer Day 2015 is being observed all over the world today. The theme for this year is ‘Not beyond us’ and looks at early detection of cancers, keeping healthy and universal treatment for cancer patients. As part of the work Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) is doing around World Cancer Day, they are keen to raise awareness of signs and symptoms of cancers which, if caught early, are much more treatable. One such cancer that occurs in children is brain cancer or a brain tumor.

HMC is advising parents to watch out for persistent and unexplained headaches in very young children, especially those aged below five years. It could be nothing but it is important to rule out any more serious conditions, such as a brain tumor, which is the second most common childhood cancer worldwide. World Cancer Day 2015 is a unique opportunity to raise awareness of the fact that there is much that can be done at an individual, community and governmental level, through taking a positive and proactive approach against cancer. The day also highlights solutions that exist across the cancer continuum that are within our reach.

Dr. Shadwa El Sayed Kishk, Specialist at HMC’s Pediatric Hematology and Oncology section explained that it is unusual for young children to complain of headaches, and especially of persistent headaches (occurring on most days). “If a child is having such symptoms they should be assessed by a qualified healthcare professional as it could be a symptom of something more serious. Persistent and unexplained headaches are one of the main symptoms of brain cancer.” Dr. Kishk specializes in patients with brain tumors; an abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells in the central nervous system (the part of the nervous system consisting of the brain and the spinal cord).

Children in this age group may be unable to describe how they feel, so parents are advised to be vigilant for other signs, such as when an infant holds her head or neck, presses on her temples or tries to keep her head very still and seems withdrawn or agitated. In addition, the child may experience vomiting, difficulty standing or walking, poor coordination, confusion or disorientation, seizures, weakness and slurred speech. Among babies, a rapidly enlarging head could also be a symptom of a brain tumor.

“If a child tries to hit their head against a wall or other object, this may be because their head hurts and not because of temper tantrums. This needs closer observation especially if there is also vomiting, double vision or decreased ability to see clearly, and weakness or numbness,” explained Dr. Kishk. While headaches among very young children could be due to other conditions, such as impairment of vision or hearing, anemia or even a cold, parents should also be aware of the possibility of a brain tumor, she advised. “Parents should urgently seek professional medical advice if their child is woken up from their sleep by headaches or if there is unexplained vomiting while they are awake.”

The site, type, grade and spread of the tumor when diagnosed will determine the patient’s prognosis. “Treatment for patients with a brain tumor includes multiple forms of therapy that are provided by multi-disciplinary professionals through our Neuro-Oncology Program. This collaborative work is important in decreasing deaths and disability as well as improving quality of life among people living with the effects of a brain tumor,” she said.

Anyone who is experiencing related signs and symptoms should seek urgent professional advice or dial 999 for the Ambulance Service.

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