World Brain Tumor Day is commemorated each year on 8 June. This awareness day aims to educate and raise awareness about brain tumour. The brain, arguably the most crucial organ in the human body, controls one's ability to think, talk, feel, see, hear, remember things, and walk. This is why it is important to understand brain tumours and their effects on the human's body.
A brain tumour develops when brain cells proliferate abnormally. Brain tumours are generally of two types. They can be malignant (cancerous), where the cells multiply and may spread to other parts of the body or benign (non-cancerous). The cells grow more slowly and tend not to spread and generally, if surgically eradicated, do not regrow. Most brain tumours are benign, and less than one third are malignant, which can develop at any age. When studied under the microscope, tumours are graded from 1 to 4 stages, depending on their location, how rapidly cells multiply and spread to adjacent organs.
In children, brain tumours often referred to as paediatric brain tumour, are the second most common cancer and account for about 26 % of all childhood cancers. In contrast, in adults, the incidence is around 5-10 per 100 000 or 2% of all malignancies. While primary brain tumours are referred to as gliomas, meningiomas, pituitary adenomas or acoustic schwannomas.
There are numerous risk factors associated with brain tumours. In most cases, the exact cause of brain tumour is unknown. However, the following factors have been identified as having a causal relationship with specific types of tumours; age, gender, family history, industrial /chemical exposure, exposure to certain infections, electromagnetic waves and ionising radiation.
After being diagnosed with a brain tumour, the outcome depends on several factors, including early detection, size, location and type of tumour, as well as the level of treatment available. With the advent of modern medical imaging technologies, molecular and histological profiling, advanced surgical and monitoring techniques, state-of-the-art radiation therapies and targeted treatment protocols, the survival rate has vastly improved.
The Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Pretoria has developed its treatment protocol which has been achieved by developing several areas of brain tumour management, including:
- Intra-operative techniques to optimise safety and improve outcomes, such as micro neurosurgery and minimally invasive techniques, advanced intra-operative imaging and neurophysiological mapping and monitoring
- Collaboration with nuclear medicine and radiology departments to improve diagnostic accuracy and early detection of central nervous system cancers
- Collaborative research programmes with the Pan Africa Cancer Research Institute (PACRI) aimed at identifying genome-specific molecular biomarkers for brain tumours in
- Developing screening tools for early detection of raised intracranial pressure (ICP) in children
- Developing a multidisciplinary approach between the various disciplines involved, such as pediatric and adult oncology, radiotherapy and rehabilitation.
About Author: Professor Padayachy is Head of the Neurosurgery Department at the University of Pretoria, Steve Biko Academic Hospital is a highly skilled specialist in pediatric brain tumour surgery and has also developed the adult brain tumour programme within the department.