Brain tumours have become the most common cause of cancer-related deaths in children under 15 years.
Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Gliomas (DIPG) are a particularly aggressive strain of brain cancer – from diagnosis less than 10 per cent of children survive another two years. Children are disproportionately affected by DIPG, with the median age of patients six to seven years old.
In the past 40 years little progress has been made to improve these statistics, as DIPG is particularly difficult to treat.
Minderoo Foundation’s Collaborate Against Cancer initiative aims to increase research collaboration and develop new treatment options for DIPG patients. Understanding the complexities of DIPG is a crucial step in the fight to improve survival rate.
Diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas are highly aggressive and difficult to treat brain tumours found at the base of the brain. The name Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG) describes how the tumour grows, where it is found, and what kinds of cells carry to the tumour.
Diffuse means that the tumour is not well-contained: it grows out into other tissue so that cancer cells mix with healthy cells. For this reason, it is impossible to surgically remove DIPG tumours without damaging healthy cells. This makes DIPG very hard to treat.
Pontine describes where the tumour is located. It is found in a part of the brainstem (the lowest, stem-like part of the brain) called the pons. The pons is responsible for several important bodily functions; breathing, sleeping, balance, blood pressure and heart rate. Because these functions are vital to survival, the pressure from the growing tumour is very dangerous.
Glioma is a general term for tumours originating from glial cells. Glial cells are found throughout the brain. They help support and protect the brain’s neurons. Glioma tumours can form in different areas of the brain. DIPG occurs in glial cells in the pons area of the brain-stem.
Unlike many other paediatric cancers, there has been little progress in improving treatments and cure rates for DIPG over the last few decades. DIPG remains fatal, fewer than 10 per cent of children with DIPG survive two years after diagnosis.
There are about 100 to 300 new diagnoses per year in the United States and Europe, and about 20 new diagnoses per year in Australia.
The current prognosis for DIPG is not good enough, and we must continue to collaborate and invest in new research to enable improved treatment options to make DIPG non-fatal for the next generation.
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