Ependymoma can be medically defined as the proliferation of tumorous growth or cancerous cells in the brain and spinal cord. It usually begins in the special ependymal cells that line the ventricles. These are fluid-filled passageways of the brain and spinal cord where the cerebrospinal fluid that nourishes the brain flows. Although it can happen to anyone at any age, it is commonly diagnosed in children and infants. Adults diagnosed with ependymoma usually have tumorous growth in the spinal cord. On rare occasions, ependymomas can form outside the CNS. Also Read: Brain Tumour: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment
Just like any other form of cancer, the exact cause of ependymoma is yet unknown, but it usually forms when the ependymal cells in the brain and spinal cord has an abnormal growth spurt. This leads to abnormally shaped cells that do not die and keep accumulating to form tumour-like structures. Although ependymomas usually happen in the brain and spinal cord but some cases, it can spread to other parts of the body due to the cerebrospinal fluid. Also Read: Schwannoma: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment
Some researches show that ependymomas can be found in families that means they are genetic and can be inherited if the parents are diagnosed with it. Spinal ependymomas are also more common in people with neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2), a condition in which noncancerous tumours grow in the central nervous system.
Depending upon their characteristics, ependymomas are grouped into three grades:
These are low-grade tumours that grow gradually. It is further categorised into Subependymoma and Myxopapillary ependymoma. Both forms are more common in adults than in children. Myxopapillary ependymoma is generally diagnosed in the spinal cord.
These types of tumours are also low-grade and grow slowly but they are usually found growing in either brain or spine.
The Grade III ependymomas are usually malignant and spread actively. They are further classified into anaplastic ependymomas. These most often occur in the brain but can also occur in the spine.
The signs and symptoms vary from person to person, where some may develop some noticeable symptoms others might not understand till later stage. The common signs and symptoms of ependymoma include:
- Neck pain
- Change in vision, i.e. blurred vision or vision loss as in the case of glaucoma
- Jerky eye movements
- Nausea and vomiting
- Difficulty with balance or walking
- Tingling, numbness in the limbs
- General debility
- Problems in bowel movements and urination
Once you notice any of the above-mentioned signs and symptoms, consult a doctor at once to start the treatment at the earliest. The specialized doctor usually does a thorough physical check-up, acknowledges the patient’s family history and past medical history and does a series of diagnostics which include:
Neurological Exam: The doctor asks the patient to move around to analyse the coordination of the neural system while at motion.
Imaging techniques: This includes CT-scan, MRI-scan and Ultrasound to find the exact position of the tumour and analyse it in detail.
Spinal Tap: Also known as lumbar puncture, the neurosurgeon usually uses a needle to withdraw a sample of cerebrospinal fluid to check whether the cancer cells are moving through the nervous system.
Treatment options usually include a team of doctors consulting to perform the best possible option to bestow the patient with a normal life. This includes:
- Radiation therapy