Looking Ahead

It is natural for parents to wonder and worry about what their child’s life will be like in the coming years and into adulthood. Both the tumour and the treatment can have long-term effects.

We cannot provide a clear picture of what the future might hold for your child. The future depends on your child’s situation as well on your family environment. However, we can describe some of the possible effects that your child may experience, and give you information on how they are screened, managed, and treated. This is why it is important for your child to regularly come to follow-up clinics, even as an adult.

Some children may develop health or learning problems that have a long-lasting impact. Some problems appear during treatment. Others can appear months or even years later. These are called late effects. Some of these long-term effects may be serious. However, a tumour that is not treated may be immediately harmful or life-threatening.

Several factors have an impact on the long-term effects your child may experience. These include:

  • the type of tumour and where it is located in the brain
  • the age at which your child was diagnosed and treated
  • the type and intensity of treatment

Radiation Dosage Map
Get Adobe Flash player
High doses of radiation may be directly targeted at a brain tumour, but surrounding areas in the brain may receive low doses of radiation. This may cause side effects.
Your treatment team will advise you on the long-term effects that your child may develop. One point to keep in mind is that treatments have changed over the years in an attempt to reduce these problems. The long-term effects we see today in adults who had brain tumours as children are the result of treatments from many years ago. They may not give you an accurate picture of what your child will experience when she grows up.

It is important to have your child attend follow-up visits to determine any long-term effects. We may not know the extent of damage from chemotherapy or radiation for many years.

Long-term effects can include problems in the areas listed below. Although the list may seem long, many of these problems are rare and most are unlikely to happen to your child. Also, some effects only happen with certain types of tumours or treatments. This information should be seen as a reference guide about what to watch for, not a sign of what will happen.

Over the long term, a brain tumour may affect:

  • learning
  • quality of life and mental health (psychological functioning)
  • physical abilities
  • hearing
  • vision
  • growth
  • puberty and fertility

Other possible long-term effects of a brain tumour include:

  • secondary cancer
  • thyroid gland problems
  • weak bones (osteoporosis)
  • obesity (weight problems)
  • adrenal gland problems
  • diabetes insipidus
  • kidney and bladder problems

We are still determining some of the long-term side effects of brain tumours which are not yet known. Better knowledge may impact how we treat brain tumours in the future.

Eric Bouffet, MD, FRCPC