Two siblings ages four and six were diagnosed with the same type of brain tumor just two weeks apart. What they have is the most common form of malignant childhood brain tumor.
In late May, 6-year-old Kalea Avery threw up and experienced headaches in the same week. When she was brought to the emergency department, doctors discovered a mass in her brain, which turned out to be medulloblastoma, a rather aggressive tumor in the cerebellum.
By June, just a week after doctors diagnosed Kalea and removed her tumor via surgery, her 4-year-old brother Noah vomited, began walking oddly, and complained of hurting in the same spot where Kalea has earlier complained of pain. On June 21, an MRI revealed that Noah also had an even bigger brain tumor in the same spot as his sister, and he too was diagnosed with medulloblastoma.
What Is Medulloblastoma?
Medulloblastoma is the most common form of malignant brain tumor in children, accounting for about 20 percent of all their brain tumors. It is a cancerous type of tumor that begins at the region of the brain that’s at the base of the skull.
It is a condition that is slightly more common in boys than in girls and often in children younger than 16 years old. Each year, 250 to 500 children are diagnosed with medulloblastoma, and although rare, it may also occur in adults.
Its symptoms include headaches, clumsiness, vomiting and nausea that gradually worsens, and having problems with handwriting. However, if the tumor has spread to the spinal cord, the patient may also have trouble walking, bladder and bowel control problems, and back pain. Often, surgery to remove the affected brain mass is the very first step in treating medulloblastoma, followed by radiation therapy and chemotherapy to remove the remaining tumor cells.
Survival rates among medulloblastoma patients vary depending on the age of the patient as well as the degree in which the tumor has spread. A patient may have 70 to 80 percent survival rate if the tumor has not yet spread and 60 percent if it has spread to the spinal cord. Often, children below three years old who are diagnosed with medulloblastoma have lower survival rates, as the disease tends to be more aggressive.
In the case of Kalea and Noah, doctors were surprised that the siblings were diagnosed with the same type of brain cancer within just a few days of each other. In fact, even if there are rare cases of siblings developing the same type of brain cancer, they do not occur at the same time.
According to doctors, it’s not likely that the tumors were triggered by an environmental factor and that it is more likely that the family has genes that make them more susceptible to developing brain tumors. Furthermore, they may have a yet-to-be-discovered genetic mutation that makes children susceptible to such diseases.
So far, both children have been operated on to remove the tumor, and both were given an 80 percent survival rate. According to their doctor, once they clear the five-year survival period, it is unlikely that the cancer will return.