What are pineal region tumours?The pineal gland sits in the central area of the brain, just behind the brain stem. Its job is to produce melatonin, a hormone which helps regulate sleep patterns. Pineal region tumours are a group of rare tumours which can start in and around the pineal gland. These tumours may restrict the flow of fluid through the brain leading to increased pressure. This causes the disease’s symptoms, which include headaches and nausea. With only around 100 people diagnosed every year, pineal tumours are very rare. In fact, they represent less than 1 percent of brain tumours. The five-year survival rate of pineal tumours is approximately 70%, meaning pineal tumours are usually treatable with modern medicine and surgical procedures. There are two main types of pineal gland tumours. These are called pineoblastoma and germ cell tumours.
Causes and risk factors of pineal gland tumours:The exact cause of pineal gland tumours is yet to be determined. However, there are several common risk factors associated with an increased risk of pineal gland tumours. Common risk factors for pineal gland tumours include:
- Retinoblastoma – Retinoblastoma is a rare disorder where tumours form in the tissues of the retina (eye). Retinoblastoma is often inherited from family members.
- Age – Pineal gland tumours are more common in children, occurring 3 to 8 times as often.
- Dermoid and epidermoid cysts – Dermoid and epidermoid cysts are cysts that are present at birth. If these cysts occur in the brain, they potentially can develop into a form of brain cancer such as a pineal gland tumour.
Symptoms of pineal region tumours:If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, it is best to see a doctor as soon as possible. An early diagnosis often allows for more effective treatment. Symptoms for pineal region tumours may vary depending on the tumour’s exact location. However, the symptoms of cancer are usually directly linked to an increase of fluid in the brain (hydrocephalus). Some of the most common symptoms of hydrocephalus are listed below:
- Headaches – Pineal gland tumours can cause painful headaches. You may feel high levels of pressure in your head. This is caused by high fluid levels.
- Nausea – People with pineal gland tumours may experience nausea and vomiting.
- Reduced coordination – Hydrocephalus in the brain can cause sufferers to have difficulty with balancing, walking and other motor skills. This is often accompanied by dizziness.
- Vision problems – Pineal region tumours can cause people to experience double vision or blurry vision. This is often accompanied by irregular eye movements.
Treatment options for pineal region tumours:There are several available treatment options for pineal region tumours. However, the preferred method(s) of treatment varies between cases. This is because the location of the tumour may make treatment unsafe. Upon being diagnosed with a pineal gland tumour, a team of doctors will work with you to create a treatment plan. This plan will be designed especially for you and will include the methods of treatment that are the safest and most effective. Below are some of the most common treatments for pineal gland cancer: Tumour removal via surgery: The aim of surgery is to remove as much of the tumour as possible without damaging the surrounding brain tissue. When possible, surgery can be highly effective against pineal gland tumours. However, the location of the tumour can often make it difficult for surgeons to safely remove it. Following surgery, additional treatments such as radiation therapy or chemotherapy may be recommended. This will reduce the chances of the tumour growing back over time. Shunt insertion via surgery: A shunt is a device which relieves pressure caused by hydrocephalus. It does this by allowing the movement of fluids in the brain and reducing buildups. The insertion of a shunt is often effective in reducing the symptoms of pineal region tumours. During this procedure, your surgeon may extract a small sample of cells (biopsy) at the same time. This sample will be examined so that doctors can learn more about your tumour. Radiation therapy: During radiation therapy, high energy radiation is used to target and destroy tumours. Radiation therapy is overseen by a radiotherapist, who will create a treatment plan which is specific to your condition. Radiation therapy is often used for the following reasons:
- As a primary treatment against germ cell tumours.
- As a treatment for cases where surgery is unsafe.
- As a follow-up to surgery to reduce the likelihood of cancer reoccurring.
- To treat the spine if cancer has spread to the spinal cord.
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Irritation of skin around the targeted area (similar to sunburn)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Loss of hair
- Increased risk of infection
- Nausea and vomiting
- Easy bruising