Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) is a rare and highly lethal form of brain stem cancer that typically affects children between the ages of five and ten. The tumor cells grow around and in between healthy cells, and surgical removal is impossible due to the precarious location in which the tumor develops. As a result, the only effective method of treatment involves radiation therapy, which serves to help alleviate symptoms. The survival rate is typically nine to twelve months.
Symptoms can include flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, headache and vomiting, caused by an increase of pressure on the brain; hydrocephalus, which is the accumulation of fluid pressure in the brain; the inability to control facial movements such as swallowing, closing the eyes and chewing; and the inability to walk properly. The symptoms may vary from person to person and typically appear within one month of development of the tumor. If your child experienced any of these symptoms, consult a physician immediately.
Treating diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma is incredibly difficult and at best a means of stalling death. The most common method of treatment is radiation therapy, which involves the use of high energy beams of radiation applied directly to the tumor from outside the head (external beam radiation). Approximately seventy-five percent of those who undergo radiation therapy for this form of cancer experience a slight improvement, though this is temporary.
Chemotherapy, which involves the use of cancer-killing drugs injected intravenously or administered in a tablet or pill form, is rarely used, yet is consistently being tested in a series of medical trials. A study published in the August 2008 issue of Neuro Oncology looked at the effectiveness of chemotherapy administered before radiation therapy in individuals with diffuse brain stem tumors. It concluded that chemotherapy does indeed possess the potential to improve the rate of survival, yet possesses a serious risk of side effects.