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Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer

What is ependymoma?

by Dr Karen Noble

On Ependymoma Awareness Day, we asked our Director of Research, Policy and Innovation, Dr Karen Noble, to tell us a bit more about this tumour type and what Brain Tumour Research is doing to help find a cure.

An ependymoma is a rare type of brain tumour that develops from the ependymal cells that line the passageways containing cerebral spinal fluid. They are therefore found in the walls of the ventricles or the spinal cord central canal.

Ependymoma can be found in any part of the brain or spine. In children, they are more common in the cerebellum, in an area called the posterior fossa, which is a small space located at the back of the brain near the brain stem.

Here are a few facts about ependymoma:

  • Ependymomas represent approximately 1.9% of all primary brain and central nervous system tumours and around 25% of spinal tumours
  • They can be classified as a grade 1 or 2 low-grade tumour or a grade 3 high-grade tumour, usually referred to as anaplastic ependymoma
  • Low-grade ependymoma tumours (grade 1 and grade 2) are more common in the spine
  • High-grade or anaplastic ependymomas (grade 3) occur most often in the brain
  • Ependymoma brain tumours tend to be diagnosed in children around the age of five
  • Spinal ependymomas are less common in children and most commonly diagnosed in adults aged around 45
  • Symptoms will depend on where in the brain the tumour is located

The first line of treatment for both adult and paediatric ependymoma is surgery. If surgery successfully removes the whole tumour, patients may require no further treatment and will be monitored with regular MRI scans.

For paediatric patients with ependymoma, the surgery may remove some of the tumour, which is then shrunk further using radiotherapy, chemotherapy or a combination of both. Another operation may then be undertaken to remove more of the tumour.

For some adult patients, radiotherapy is offered once they have recovered from the surgery. It is unusual for adults to be offered chemotherapy unless they have a grade 3 ependymoma.

What is Brain Tumour Research doing to find a cure?

Research we are funding across all of our Brain Tumour Research Centres of Excellence is at the cutting-edge of finding a cure

At our Centre of Excellence at the University of Plymouth, the team has a strong focus on the emerging area of personalised medicine in order to provide new understanding of specific groups of common, low-grade brain tumours. The pioneering research team is working on number of different types of tumours, including ependymoma.

Ependymoma tumours can occur as a result of a genetically inherited condition called neurofibromatosis 2. The Plymouth team also has a strong focus on both neurofibromatosis 2 and brain tumours that have an NF2 gene mutation. You can read more about their research projects here.

We also fund BRAIN UK at Southampton University, the country’s only national tissue bank registry providing crucial access to brain tumour samples for researchers and an essential component in the fight to find a cure.

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