While children who have had brain tumors perform worse in school than healthy kids, grades in foreign language are the most affected and girls have a harder time than boys in getting good grades, according to a study published in the issue of Neurology. Researchers say this is the first time the actual grades and subjects of brain tumor survivors have been reported.
"These results will help us identify brain tumor survivors who are at greatest risk for school failure and may need remedial help as early as possible," said study author Päivi Lähteenmäki, MD, PhD, with Turku University Hospital in Turku, Finland.
For the study, researchers compared the ninth grade report cards of 300 children with previous brain tumors, which had been treated with surgery or radiation therapy, to 1,473 healthy children living in Finland.
The study found the average grades of children who have had a brain tumor were significantly lower in each school subject, and differed most in foreign language, especially for girls. More than 58 percent of female patients received grades below an eight (four = fail, 10 = excellent) in foreign language compared to 38 percent of healthy children. "It appears verbal performance is the area most seriously affected for brain tumor survivors." said Lähteenmäki. "This may be a reflection of a diminished ability to learn new information."
Lähteenmäki says girls may be more sensitive to the adverse effects of radiation therapy, which has been regarded as the main cause of cognitive decline.
The study also found 94 percent of brain tumor survivors completed the ninth grade of Finnish comprehensive school at the usual age. "These results are encouraging, considering a prior study in the United States showed brain tumor survivors were significantly less likely to finish high school compared to their siblings," said Lähteenmäki.
Brain tumors are the second most common form of cancer occurring in childhood, and the leading cause of cancer-related illness and death in this age group.