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Brain cancer: identifying the best treatment for each child

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Every year in the UK, around 400 children are diagnosed with brain cancer.1.2 Many face prolonged and gruelling treatment with surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy. While treatment can prove life-saving, it can also cause serious, long-term side effects, so it’s important to get the balance right. Professor Andrew Peet, of the University of Birmingham, is developing a way to tailor treatment more closely to the needs of each individual child. He believes this could save the lives of children with the most aggressive tumours and spare those with less severe illness from unnecessary treatments.

This project is jointly funded by Action Medical Research and The Brain Tumour Charity.

How are children’s lives affected now?

“A diagnosis of brain cancer is devastating – not just for the child himself, or herself, but for the whole family,” explains Professor Peet. “Going through treatment is really tough. It completely changes children’s lives over months or even years.”

Sadly, around one in every four children diagnosed with a brain tumour lose their lives within five years,3 making brain tumours the most deadly of all childhood cancers.4

“Children who make it through treatment remain at risk of experiencing long-term problems,” continues Professor Peet. “They can have difficulties with movement, balance and coordination, and with learning, hearing and vision, for example. This can be due to pre-existing problems and the tumour itself – but it can also be a side effect of treatment.”

With so much at stake, we need to ensure all children with brain tumours get the best possible treatment and information5 for them and their families..

How could this research help?

“Children with brain cancer have MRI scans routinely when they are first diagnosed,” explains Professor Peet. “The scans provide highly detailed pictures of tumours inside the brain. We are developing a way to get even more from MRI scans, using a sophisticated technique that provides information on the chemical make-up of tumours. We believe this information could be of great value, because it could enable us to predict how aggressive each child’s cancer is likely to be much sooner and more accurately.”

“Early information about a child’s outlook for the future would enable us to tailor treatment more closely to his, or her, individual needs,” says Professor Peet. “Children with the most aggressive tumours could immediately be given the most intensive treatment, which could boost their chances of survival. Children whose tumours are not so life-threatening could be given less intensive treatment, sparing them from some of the lifelong disabilities that treatment can cause.”


1. Macmillan. Brain tumours in children. Website accessed 16 October 2013.

2. Cancer Research UK. Brain tumour risks and causes. Website accessed 16 October 2013.

3. Medline Plus, Brain tumour – children Website accessed 16 October 2013.

4. Childhood cancer mortality statistics. Website accessed 8 November 2013.

5. The Brain Tumour Charity: Information about living with childhood brain tumours, their diagnosis and treatment. Website accessed 27 November 2013



Project Leader Professor A C Peet PhD FRCPCH
Project Team Dr N P Davies PhD MIPEM CSciDr M P Wilson PhDDr T N Arvanitis PhD
Project Location School of Cancer Sciences, University of Birmingham
Project Location Other Birmingham Children's Hospital, Electronic, Electrical and Computer EngineeringUniversity of Birmingham and Department of Medical Physics, University Hospitals Birmingham
Project duration 3 years
Date awarded 14 August 2013
Project start date 13 January 2014
Project end date 1 October 2021
Grant amount £194,548
Grant code GN2181


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