Larissa Bufka, Germany
Do you ever feel you can’t control what is about to happen in the future? That’s how many parents feel if their child is diagnosed with Diffuse Instrinsic Pontine Glioma ( DIPG).
Most of the people in the world have never heard of this type of cancer, so what is DIPG?
DIPG is a highly aggressive and difficult to treat brain cancer. Most likely children between the age 1- 14 are diagnosed. The cancer is located in the base of the brain, more specifically the brain-stem (Pons). The pons is located in the middle of the brain and is one of the most important parts. It is responsible for breathing, sleeping, blood pressure and many more.
What causes it?
Many other cancers are influenced and caused by the environment such as smoking, drinking, drug abuse, radiation and inherited genes from their parents, but there is no link or connection to either one of them to DIPG. There is nothing that parents could have changed. New studies have shown that the brain cancer is connected to the brain development, which suggested that the disease process may be influenced by particular cells that are present in the highest concentrations while the brain is growing and developing. That could also explain why only children get DIPG and not adults. There is not a lot of research yet, so nobody knows what exactly causes the brain tumor.
What are the symptoms?
The tumor is growing really fast, so the symptoms are appearing all of a sudden and get worse really quickly. The tumor is growing in the brainstem and is growing really fast. Because of the location in the middle of the brain, children usually have problems at the beginning with the face muscle and also with the eye movement. Later, one side of the face drops. Children also experience bad headache and vomiting. They have problems chewing, swallowing, and get hearing problems, many children also become deaf. After a time, the tumor causes limb weakness, difficulty standing or walking, abnormal gaits and unbalanced limb movements.
Is there a treatment or even a cure?
Doctors can not remove the brain tumor with surgery and there are two reasons. Reason number one is because the pons is located in the middle of the brain. A surgeon could not get to the tumor without damaging the surrounding brain. Damaging the neighboring area could be even more fatal, and would cause neurological damage. The second reason is that, even if the doctor is able to surgically remove the tumor, it would return soon. The reason for that is that the tumor is not a solid tumor, which is a big or small mass of cancer cells which can be removed easily. A DIPG tumor spreads between the healthy brain mass, so it is impossible to remove all of the cancer cells and not damage the healthy part of the brain. The tumor would return immediately.
Radiation helps many DIPG patients. It lets the tumor shrink a little and makes the patients feel more comfortable. Many symptoms are not as bad as they could be. But radiation is not strong enough, so the tumor is grows back within month.
In the past years many DIPG patients have tried different kinds of chemotherapy, sometimes alone or sometimes with other drugs, but not one of them has shown any benefit for survival.
Are there any survivors and what is the long-therm outlook?
The advanced medicine has done nothing for the children with DIPG. There has been no change since 1960. A child diagnosed with DIPG gets the same treatment/prognosis as he would have 60 years ago. There is no chance of survival. Some other cancers had a survival chance of 10 % in 1960, but nowadays they have a survival rate of 90% (Wilms tumor) so the survival rate improved by 80 %, which is amazing. Children who get diagnosed with DIPG die usually nine month after the prognosis. In some cases, they survived two years, but it depends how advanced the tumor is. Just 5% survive for five years. No one who has been diagnosed with DIPG has ever survived. The long-therm outlook is to make them feel as comfortable as possible. This type of cancer should get more attention and there should be more test and research to help many families and children in the future.
I choose this subject to bring more awareness about this specific brain cancer and that everyone should be happy to be healthy and alive:)