Despite the huge progress that’s been made in treating many types of childhood cancer, brain tumours are lagging behind. Although these diseases are relatively rare – and the chances of surviving have increased over the past few decades – brain and spinal cord tumours are the leading cause of cancer death in children, claiming more than one hundred young lives every year.
One of the major challenges in treating these tumours in children is working out what’s going on deep inside their growing brains. There are many different types of brain tumour, each requiring different treatment approaches and with varying chances of survival. But despite advances in imaging, such as MRI scanning, that help doctors see inside the ‘black box’ of the skull, it’s still hard to figure out exactly what sort of tumour a child has without resorting to invasive surgery.
In two related papers, published earlier this year in the European Journal of Cancer, Professor Andrew Peet and his team at the University of Birmingham have taken a step forward in developing a non-invasive technique that could help doctors to diagnose childhood brain tumours more accurately before surgery, as well as helping them choose the best way to treat them. And Cancer Research UK’s support, through our Imaging Programme, was essential for making it happen.
Let’s take a closer look at what they found.