Childhood Visual Pathway and Hypothalamic Glioma Treatment (PDQ®)
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What is childhood visual pathway glioma?
Childhood visual pathway glioma is a type of brain tumor in which cancer
(malignant) cells begin to grow in the tissues of the brain. The brain
controls memory and learning, the senses (hearing, sight, smell, taste, and
touch), and emotion. It also controls other parts of the body, including
muscles, organs, and blood vessels. Other than leukemia or lymphoma, brain
tumors are the most common type of cancer that occurs in children.
Gliomas are a type of astrocytoma, tumors that start in brain cells called
astrocytes. A visual pathway glioma occurs along the nerve that sends messages
from the eye to the brain (the optic nerve). Visual pathway gliomas are visual
pathway tumors. They may grow rapidly or slowly, depending on the grade of the
The risk of developing visual pathway
gliomas is increased in children with a geneticdisorder called neurofibromatosis type
1 (NF-1). NF-1 is a rare genetic condition that causes brown spots and tumors on the skin, freckling in skin areas not exposed to the sun, tumors on the nerves, and developmental changes in the nervous system, muscles, bone, and skin. Children with NF-1 who develop visual pathway gliomas may have a good chance of recovery and may not require treatment until symptoms appear or change.
This PDQ summary covers tumors that start in the brain (primary brain tumors).
Often cancer found in the brain has started somewhere else in the body and has
spread (metastasized) to the brain. This is called brain metastasis (refer to
the PDQ summary on Adult Brain Tumors Treatment for more information).
Like most cancer, childhood brain tumor is best treated when it is found
(diagnosed) early. If your child has symptoms, the doctor may order a computed tomographic (CT) scan, a special x-ray that uses a computer to make a picture
of your child’s brain. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, which uses
magnetic waves to make a picture of your child’s brain, may also be done.
Often, surgery is required to see whether there is a brain tumor and to tell
what type of tumor it is. The doctor may cut out a piece of tissue from the
brain and look at it under a microscope. This is called a biopsy.
There are many types of brain tumors in children and the chance of recovery
(prognosis) depends on the type of tumor, where it is located within the brain,
and your child’s age and general health. See the PDQ summary on Childhood Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors Treatment Overview for more information about the types of childhood brain tumors.
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Once childhood visual pathway glioma is found, more tests will be done to find
out the type of tumor. If a biopsy specimen is taken, the cancercells will be
looked at carefully under a microscope to see how different they are from the
normal cells. This will determine the histologicgrade of the tumor.
There is no staging for childhood visual pathway glioma. The treatment depends
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- The location and size of the tumor.
- The child's age and general health.
- Whether or not the child has a condition called neurofibromatosis type 1.
- Whether or not the cancer has just been diagnosed or has recurred (come back).
Untreated childhood visual pathway glioma
Untreated childhood visual pathway glioma means that no treatment has been
given except to treat symptoms.
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Recurrent visual pathway glioma
Recurrent disease means that the cancer has come back (recurred) after it has
been treated. It may come back in the brain or in the head or spinal area.
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Treatment Option Overview
Different types of treatment are available for children with visual pathway glioma. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment.
Because cancer in children is rare, taking part in a clinical trial should be considered. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment
of standard treatment are used:
Experienced doctors working together can often give the best treatment for
children with visual pathway glioma. Your child’s treatment will often be
coordinated by a pediatriconcologist, a doctor who specializes in cancer in
children. The pediatric oncologist may refer you to other doctors, such as a
pediatric neurosurgeon (a specialist in childhood brain surgery), a pediatric
neurologist, a psychologist, a radiation oncologist, and other doctors who
specialize in the type of treatment your child requires.
Surgery is one treatment for visual pathway glioma. Depending on where the
cancer is and the type of cancer, your child’s doctor may remove as much of the
tumor as possible. If the tumor cannot be totally removed, radiation therapy
and chemotherapy may also be given. If the cancer is in a place where it
cannot be removed, surgery may be limited to a biopsy of the cancer.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink
tumors. Radiation therapy for childhood brain tumors usually comes from a
machine outside the body (external radiation therapy). Because radiation therapy can affect growth and brain development,
clinical trials are testing ways to decrease or delay radiation therapy,
especially for younger children.
These include internal radiation therapy, in which radiation
is put into the brain through thin plastic tubes, and hyperfractionated radiation therapy, in which
radiation therapy is given in several small doses per day instead of all at once. Conformal radiation therapy uses a computer to create a 3-D picture of the tumor and the radiation beams are shaped to fit the tumor; this helps to keep the radiation away from healthy tissue as much as possible.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be taken by
pill, or it may be put into the body by a needle in a vein or muscle.
Chemotherapy is called a systemic treatment because the drug enters the
bloodstream, travels through the body, and can kill cancer cells throughout the
body. Chemotherapy is being studied to delay the use of radiation therapy in
some patients. Clinical trials are studying different chemotherapy drugs for
visual pathway gliomas.
Some brain tumors and cancer treatments cause side effects that continue or appear years after cancer treatment has ended. These are called late effects. Late effects of cancer treatment may include physical problems; changes in mood, feelings, thinking, learning or memory; and having second cancers (new types of cancer). Some late effects may be treated or controlled. It is important to talk with your child's doctors about the possible late effects caused by some treatments. Refer to the PDQ summary on Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Cancer for more information.[Back to top]
Treatment in a clinical trial
For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.
Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.
Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.
Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.
Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. In the following lists of treatments for the different stages, a link to search results for current clinical trials is included for each section. These have been retrieved from NCI's clinical trials database. For some types or stages of cancer, there may not be any trials listed. Check with your child's doctor for clinical trials that are not listed here but may be right for your child.
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Untreated Childhood Visual Pathway Glioma
Your child’s treatment may be one of the following:
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's PDQ Cancer Clinical Trials Registry that are now accepting patients with untreated childhood visual pathway glioma. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.[Back to top]
Recurrent Childhood Visual Pathway Glioma
Treatment for recurrent disease depends on the type of tumor, whether the tumor
comes back in the same place or in another part of the brain, and the treatment
that was given before.
If possible, the tumor may be removed during surgery. Radiation therapy may be
given, especially if it was not given before. Chemotherapy may be used, and
clinical trials are evaluating new chemotherapy drugs.
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's PDQ Cancer Clinical Trials Registry that are now accepting patients with recurrent childhood visual pathway glioma. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.[Back to top]
To Learn More About Childhood Brain Tumors
For more information from the National Cancer Institute about childhood brain tumors, see the following:
For more childhood cancer information and other general cancer resources from the National Cancer Institute, see the following:[Back to top]
Changes to This Summary (07/03/2008)
The PDQcancer information summaries are reviewed regularly and updated as new information becomes available. This section describes the latest changes made to this summary as of the date above.
Editorial changes were made to this summary.