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Childhood Ependymoma Treatment (PDQ®)

Patient Version
Last Modified: 09/02/2014

Treatment Option Overview



There are different types of treatment for children with ependymoma.

Different types of treatment are available for children with ependymoma. 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.

Children with ependymoma should have their treatment planned by a team of health care providers who are experts in treating childhood brain tumors.

Treatment will be overseen by a pediatric oncologist, a doctor who specializes in treating children with cancer. The pediatric oncologist works with other pediatric health care providers who are experts in treating children with brain tumors and who specialize in certain areas of medicine. These may include the following specialists:

Childhood brain and spinal cord tumors may cause signs or symptoms that begin before diagnosis and continue for months or years.

Childhood brain and spinal cord tumors may cause signs or symptoms that continue for months or years. Signs or symptoms caused by the tumor may begin before diagnosis. Signs or symptoms caused by treatment may begin during or right after treatment.

Some cancer treatments cause side effects months or years after treatment has ended.

These are called late effects. Late effects of cancer treatment may include the following:

  • Physical problems.
  • Changes in mood, feelings, thinking, learning, or memory.
  • 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 effects cancer treatment can have on your child. (See the PDQ summary on Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Cancer for more information).

Four types of standard treatment are used:

Surgery

If the results of diagnostic tests show there may be a brain tumor, a biopsy is done by removing part of the skull and using a needle to remove a sample of the brain tissue. A pathologist views the tissue under a microscope to check for cancer cells. If cancer cells are found, the doctor will remove as much tumor as safely possible during the same surgery.

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Drawing of a craniotomy showing a section of the scalp that has been pulled back to remove a piece of the skull; the dura covering the brain has been opened to expose the brain. The layer of muscle under the scalp is also shown.
Craniotomy: An opening is made in the skull and a piece of the skull is removed to show part of the brain.


An MRI is often done after the tumor is removed to find out whether any tumor remains. If tumor remains, a second surgery to remove as much of the remaining tumor as possible may be done.

Even if the doctor removes all the cancer that can be seen at the time of the surgery, some patients may be given chemotherapy or radiation therapy after surgery to kill any cancer cells that are left. Treatment to lower the risk that the cancer will come back after surgery is called adjuvant therapy.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type of cancer being treated. Childhood ependymoma may be treated with fractionated radiation therapy, which divides the total dose of radiation into several smaller, equal doses delivered over a number of days.

External radiation therapy can be given in different ways:

  • Three-dimensional (3D) conformal radiation therapy uses a computer to create a 3D picture of the tumor. The radiation beams are shaped to fit the tumor.
  • Proton-beam therapy is a type of high-energy, external radiation therapy that uses streams of protons (small, positively-charged particles of matter) to kill tumor cells.
  • Stereotactic radiosurgery is a type of radiation therapy that uses a head frame attached to the skull to keep the head still. A single large dose of radiation is aimed directly at the brain tumor. This causes less damage to nearby healthy tissue. Stereotactic radiosurgery is also called stereotaxic radiosurgery, radiosurgery, and radiation surgery. This procedure does not involve surgery.

Children younger than 3 years who receive radiation therapy to the brain have a higher risk of problems with growth and development than older children. 3D conformal radiation therapy and proton-beam therapy are being studied in children younger than 3 years to see if the effects of radiation on growth and development are lessened.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type of cancer being treated.

Observation

Observation is closely monitoring a patient’s condition without giving any treatment until signs or symptoms appear or change. Observation may be used to treat a child with a subependymoma who has no symptoms and whose tumor is found while treating another condition.

New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.

Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

Patients may want to think about taking part 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.

Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.

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. See the Treatment Options section that follows for links to current treatment clinical trials. These have been retrieved from NCI's listing of clinical trials.

Follow-up tests may be needed.

Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests. This is sometimes called re-staging.

Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your child's condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.

Follow-up tests for childhood ependymoma include an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) of the brain and spinal cord every 3 months for the first 1 or 2 years after treatment. After 2 years, MRIs may be done every 6 months for the next 3 years.