Six percent of children treated for a brain tumor did not finish the ninth grade.
Children who have had brain tumors perform worse in school than their healthy counterparts, with the most pronounced difference noted in foreign language grades.
Girls treated for brain tumors had a harder time than boys in getting good grades, according to study data published in a recent issue of Neurology.
Researchers have long suspected that brain tumors and associated treatments might affect school performance, but this was the first time scholastic achievements had been evaluated by examining the grades of individual students.
“These results will help us identify brain tumor survivors who are at greatest risk for school failure and may need remedial help as soon as possible,” Päivi Lähteenmäki, MD, a university lecturer at Turku University Hospital in Finland, said in a press release.
Lähteenmäki and colleagues first identified 300 children from the Finnish Cancer Registry who had confirmed brain tumors. The researchers identified 1,473 control subjects who were matched for age, sex and residence.
Grade reports were obtained from a central statistics database, and the researchers focused on the ninth grade of education.
Overall, 6% of children treated for a brain tumor did not finish the ninth grade, the last year of comprehensive education in Finland.
“These results are encouraging, considering the results of a prior study in the United States showed brain tumor survivors were significantly less likely to finish high school compared with their siblings,” Lähteenmäki said.
However, the average grades of children who had a brain tumor were significantly lower in each subject evaluated.
In the Finnish school system, children are given numeric rather than letter grades, and more than 58% of female children with brain tumors scored lower than an eight (out of ten) compared with 38% of healthy children.
“It appears verbal performance is the area most seriously affected for brain tumor survivors. This may be a reflection of a diminished ability to learn new information,” Lähteenmäki said.
In their native tongue, children with brain tumors did not differ as much from controls in terms of school performance. However, the most significant difference was noted in foreign language.
Overall, cranial irradiation appeared to effect school performance. Girls with brain tumors performed worse than controls irrespective of cranial irradiation treatment. For boys, if they were treated with cranial irradiation during school, they had poorer performance than controls.
Lähteenmäki suggested that girls may be more sensitive to the adverse effects of radiation therapy, which has been regarded as the main cause of cognitive decline.
For more information:
- Lähteenmäki PM, Harila-Saari A, Pukkala EI, et al. Scholastic achievements of children with brain tumors at the end of comprehensive education: a nationwide, register-based study. Neurology. 2007;69:296-305.