Phantom brain tumors on the rise in kids



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Posted on July 17, 2010 at 11:25 AM

Most teens don't spend their summers doing homework. But Lauren Ashley is an exception, because she missed so much school.

"Kids don't understand what's going on. They're like, 'you look perfectly fine. You don't have cancer. You're not in a wheelchair.' I'm like, 'Well I was in pain,'" she said.

The pain stems from pressure in Lauren's head that in her case, leads to unbearable headaches without warning. Her condition was caught during a routine eye exam.

"The ophthalmologist looked in her eyes. He could tell her optic nerves were very swollen, and told us that she had a brain tumor," said Lauren's mom, Diane.

But extensive tests proved Lauren didn't have a brain tumor, just the symptoms of one. It's a rare condition called pseudotumor cerebri. If left untreated it can be devastating.

"A number of people will actually go blind from this. This damages the optic nerve," said Dr. Steve Roach, Nationwide Children's Hospital Ohio

Dr. Roach says it's hard to know how many kids have the condition. But the diagnosis is on the rise.

He and his colleagues at nationwide children's hospital started the first clinic in the country dedicated to treating pseudotumor in children.
Patients like Lauren often take dozens of medicines, can go through countless surgeries, and travel to see different specialists.

"She's had, we stopped counting, around 30 surgeries, and more than 50 hospitalizations in the last five and a half years," said Diane.

The new clinic would simplify that. Dr. Roach says it will have eye doctors, surgeons, and imaging specialists in one place, working toward one goal.

"We can find these kids earlier, and get them treated. I mean it's really a crying shame to have an eight-year-old lose their vision when we could prevent it," he said.

The Ashley family is grateful to have the treatment option for their child.

Researchers aren't sure what causes the condition but they believe childhood obesity plays a role. 

Symptoms of the condition include blurred vision, vomiting, and headaches that worsen at night.

More information

Government website explains the condition

Seattle Children's Hospital