DIPG is a type of tumor that starts in the brain stem, the part of the brain just above
the back of the neck and connected to the spine. The brain stem controls breathing, heart rate and the nerves and muscles that help us see, hear, walk, talk and eat. These tumors are called gliomas
because they grow from glial cells, a type of supportive cell in the brain.
About 10% to 20% of all childhood brain tumors are DIPG or brainstem gliomas.
They are more common in children between the ages of 5 and 10 years, but can occur at any age in childhood. Though more rare, they can
also occur in adults.
The most common symptoms related to DIPG include the following:
- Problems with balance and walking
- Problems with the eyes (including double vision, drooping eyelids, uncontrolled eye movements, blurred vision)
- Problems with chewing and swallowing
- Nausea and vomiting
- Morning headache or headache that gets better after the child vomits
- Facial weakness or drooping (usually one side)
These tumors are treated with radiation therapy, which are high-energy X-rays that destroy tumor cells. This treatment can reduce
symptoms significantly, but there may be some permanent damage caused by the tumor which can’t be helped. Steroids, another type of drug, are often given to improve some of the symptoms. Surgery is
not part of the standard treatment because the tumor has grown within a part of the brain where resection is
impossible. The effectiveness of chemotherapy is still uncertain.
Medical advances in the past 40 years have
greatly improved the survival rates for children diagnosed with most types of cancer. For some cancers, the medical advances have been extraordinary. For example, the survival rate for children with
acute lymphocytic leukemia has increased from less than 10 percent in the 1960s to nearly 90 percent today. Overall, the survival rate for children with cancer is around 83 percent.
But these medical advances have done nothing
for children DIPG. Brain tumors remain the most common cause of cancer-related death in children, and DIPG is the leading cause of death from pediatric brain tumors. A child diagnosed with DIPG today
faces the same prognosis as a child diagnosed 40 years ago. There is still no effective treatment and no chance of survival. Only 10% of children with DIPG survive for 2 years following their
diagnosis, and less than 1% survive for 5 years. The median survival is 9 months from diagnosis.
Information obtained from: