In our brain and spinal cord, there are housekeeping cells called the glial cells. There are 3 types of glial cells. One of them is called ependyma. Cancer of the ependyma is called ependymoma.
A type of cells called glial cells do most of the housekeeping work in the brain and spinal cord. Glial cells are divided into three types: Astrocytes, Ependymal cells and Oligodendrocytes. Toxins, radiation exposure, drugs, nutrition imbalance or genetic load can cause alterations in these cells, resulting in uncontrolled growth in the form of a tumor. Tumors originating in the ependymal cells are called endymomas.
Ependymomas are usually slow growing tumors. They are usually found in the fluid-filled hollow spaces in the brain (called ventricles) and the spinal cord. At times, floating in the fluid, the tumor can also spread. Around this tumor, hardening of the tissue or some bleeding may be seen around this type of tumors.
Ependymomas of the brain is common among children. Whereas endymomas of the spinal cord are usually seen in older adults. Some times, these tumors are non-cancerous.
Complication due to Ependymomas
About 10% ependymomas are non-cancerous. They won’t spread to other parts of the body and cause trouble at multiple sites. Even with a tumor that doesn’t spread, its growth can put pressure on adjoining structures and cause complications. Lastly, some of the non-cancerous growth can eventually turn cancerous.
Symptoms of Ependymomas
Symptoms of an ependymoma depends on its location in the brain or spinal cord. Common symptoms are:
- Movement issues
- Gait issues
- Loss of sensation
Diagnosing an Ependymoma
These are the standard tools used for diagnosing an ependymoma:
- CT Imaging
A CT scan is used in order to locate the tumor and determine its size. Bleeding in the surrounding areas, thickening of tissues and fluid filled sacs can also be identified using a CT image.
- MRI Imaging
An MRI image is needed to clearly visualize nerve and soft tissue involvement. MRI can also be used to locate a tumor that was missed out by the CT.
Treatment of Ependymomas
Following is the preferred order of treatment for ependymoma:
Excision of tumor: For an ependymoma, the treatment of choice is a surgery. The surgeon removes the tumor, along with a portion of surrounding normal tissue, is carefully removed without damaging the surrounding nerves.
Tumor Debulking: Large tumors, particularly the ones that invade the surrounding tissue, are partially removed. This relieves the compression caused by the tumor on neighboring structures.
In case of large tumors and the tumors that have spread into surrounding tissue, radiation therapy is started after debulking the tumor. This helps to destroy the remaining tumor cells as much as possible.
Chemotherapy stands for special class of drugs that are specially designed to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy is not very effective for most of the ependyomas.
Pharmachology is not very helpful in treatment endymomas. However, for a patient who has ependymomas, the doctor may prescribe drugs to reduce the fluid accumulation and to relieve the pain.
Like with any cancer, detecting it early and treating it aggressively is the key to extending the longevity of patients with this disease.