Pediatric Brain Tumor Board: Bringing Multi-Disciplinary Expertise to Each Patient’s Care

Brain tumors are complicated conditions and pediatric brain tumors require even more specialty treatment.

This was recognized by the teams at Lurie Children’s as far back as 1989 when they developed the first multi-disciplinary board in the country dedicated to pediatric brain tumors, the most common solid tumor diagnosed in children.   

“The hospital had a Cancer Board but nothing dedicated to the child’s brain,” said Tadanori Tomita, MD, Division Head, Neurosurgery; Medical Director, Falk Brain Tumor Center; and Yeager Professor of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. 

Since then, Dr. Tomita’s team has grown significantly and now each week between 40 and 50 clinicians meet to review cases and develop treatment plans for children whose brain and spine tumors have either been newly diagnosed, have recurred, or require a change in therapeutic plan. On average 6-8 patient cases are presented and discussed each week.

One piece of that discussion includes identifying which patients are candidates for an advanced form of cancer therapy called proton therapy, which precisely targets radiation to tumors.  “Due to the precision of the radiation, there are fewer side-effects for the patients,” said Dr. Tomita. “This highly efficient treatment option also reduces damage to healthy tissue, as well as the likelihood of cancers occurring at other sites in the body.”

In addition to discussing the cases of patients who are being treated at Lurie Children’s, the Brain Tumor Board is also frequently sought out for second opinions from around the country.  “Often those patients are children who have been treated but have relapsed and we look at what else might be able to be done,” said Dr. Tomita.

The multi-disciplinary Board includes experts from a variety of areas: pediatric neurosurgeons, neuro-oncologists, neurologists, radiation oncologists, neuro-radiologists, and neuro-pathologists, neuroendocrinology, genetics, neuro-psychologists, as well as Child Life Specialists, social workers and chaplains.

Together they bring the best pediatric healthcare minds to each case.  Working as a team also makes it easier on families to comprehend what is happening, as they can meet with multiple specialists at once too. 

The Brain Tumor Board is the heart of the much bigger and comprehensive Falk Brain Tumor Center at Lurie Children’s that also includes a research program, an education component, and clinical management.

The tissue bank, which is a key component of the research program, allows the team to retrospectively analyze tumors and look at specific genetic make-ups.  “If we see many tumors of the same type, for instance,” said Dr. Tomita, “we can look back to see if there were universal changes in a gene, which may be able to alter treatment going forward.”

The Brain Tumor Board, and the Falk Brain Tumor Center, continue to look for treatments that push the frontier, offering highly specialized, state-of the-art care for children.