An ependymoma is a rare tumor that begins in the central nervous system, which comprises the brain and spinal cord. Ependymoma cancer is anaplastic if the cancer cells grow rapidly and are unusual in shape.

Ependymomas can affect people of any age, though brain ependymomas commonly occur in children. In adults, this type of tumor typically occurs in the spinal cord.

If a person has an anaplastic ependymoma, their cancer cells grow rapidly and have an unusual shape.

In this article, we outline what anaplastic ependymoma cancer is and discuss its symptoms, causes, and treatment.

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Ependymomas are tumors that commonly begin in the cells that line the ventricular system. This system is a set of interconnected brain cavities, or ventricles, containing cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which helps cushion the brain.

Ependymomas are rare and comprise approximately 1.7% of all brain tumors.

Healthcare professionals group ependymomas into three grades according to their characteristics:

  • Grade 1: These ependymomas are often slow-growing and are benign, meaning they are noncancerous.
  • Grade 2: These ependymomas are low-grade tumors that may occur in the brain or the spine.
  • Grade 3: These ependymomas are malignant, meaning they are cancerous. They are often fast-growing.

Anaplastic ependymomas are a subtype of grade 3 ependymoma. These cancers are rapid-growing and develop atypically-shaped cells.

There are also different subtypes of ependymomas relating to the location and characteristics of the tumors.

These cancers most commonly occur in the brain but may also occur in the spine.

Symptoms of ependymomas vary depending on the location of the tumor.

If a person has an ependymoma in their brain, the increased pressure within the skull can cause the following symptoms:

If a person has an ependymoma in their spine, it can cause the following symptoms:

  • back pain
  • numbness and weakness in the:
    • arms
    • legs
    • trunk
  • issues with having sex
  • urinary issues
  • bowel issues

Cancer occurs due to certain gene changes affecting the body’s cell functions.

The disease can also develop due to different types of gene changes. These include:

  • random changes in DNA that occur as cells multiply
  • DNA changes that occur due to interactions with certain carcinogens in the environment, such as:
  • inherited gene mutations

Healthcare professionals do not fully understand the exact cause of anaplastic ependymoma. However, scientists believe certain changes in specific genes may allow the cells to grow very quickly.

Medical professionals may use MRI scans to diagnose ependymoma tumors. These scans are a type of imaging technique that uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to create detailed images of bodily structures.

MRI scans can help doctors determine whether an ependymoma tumor is present. They can also help healthcare professionals determine the grade of the cancer.

A doctor may also carry out a biopsy to get an accurate diagnosis. A biopsy is a surgical procedure that involves removing a piece of the tumor tissue. A neuropathologist, who specializes in CNS diseases, reviews the sample in a laboratory to confirm the diagnosis.

Ependymoma tumors are very rare. This makes it difficult for doctors to understand the optimal treatment options for people with this type of cancer.

That said, surgery is typically the primary treatment option. During the procedure, a surgeon will aim to remove as much of the tumor as possible.

Additionally, medical professionals may recommend additional treatment after surgery according to the following:

  • the person’s age
  • whether there is any tumor remaining after surgery
  • tumor type
  • tumor location

After surgery, a person may undergo further treatments, such as radiation therapy or chemotherapy.

Radiation therapy is a treatment that uses high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells. This can help shrink any tumor material that remains following surgery.

Chemotherapy is a treatment that uses specific drugs to kill cancer cells.

One way of determining the difference in outlook between different types of cancer is to understand the 5-year survival rate.

This rate refers to the percentage of people with the same cancer type who will survive for 5 years after they receive their diagnosis compared with the general population.

The 5-year survival rate for people with an ependymoma is 83.9%. This means that those with this cancer subtype are 83.9% as likely to be alive 5 years after their diagnosis compared to those without the disease.

If a person has anaplastic ependymoma, then their cancer is fast-growing, potentially leading to a more negative outlook.

However, many different factors can affect a person’s likelihood of survival, such as:

  • the tumor grade
  • the tumor type
  • the cancer’s traits
  • the person’s age
  • the person’s overall health
  • how the person responds to treatment

With this in mind, individuals need to speak with a doctor to understand their full outlook. Additionally, ependymoma tumors and their treatments can cause some possible complications.

In some cases, these tumors can block the flow of CSF from the ventricles. This can cause them to swell, which is known as hydrocephalus.

Hydrocephalus can cause the following symptoms in infants:

  • increased head size and an atypically large head
  • a bulge on the top of the head in the soft spot known as the fontanel
  • vomiting
  • issues with sucking or feeding
  • sleepiness and irritability
  • downward fixed eyes
  • seizures

Hydrocephalus can cause the following symptoms in older children and adults:

Hydrocephalus may cause older adults to develop these symptoms:

  • issues with walking and a general slowness in movements
  • progressive mental impairment
  • dementia
  • loss of bladder control
  • coordination and balance issues

If a person has spinal cord ependymomas, surgical treatment for their cancer may cause complications relating to nerve damage.

Ependymoma is a type of cancer that begins in the brain or spinal cord.

A person’s ependymoma cancer is anaplastic if the cancer cells grow rapidly and develop an unusual shape.

Treatment for ependymomas tends to involve surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible. A person may then undergo radiation therapy to try and kill any remaining cancer cells.