It has been several months since Dr. Lane Rutledge, who was our colleague in the UAB NF Clinic, passed away unexpectedly, and her absence has been felt by those of us in the NF Clinic as well as by her patients. While patients with urgent issues are seen in the clinic right away, others may sometimes wait longer for an appointment than we would like. We’re currently working to expand NF Clinic capacity by integrating pediatric and adult neuro-oncology into the clinic to assist in following NF patients who have brain tumors, optic gliomas, and complex plexiform neurofibromas.  Fortunately, as more treatments have become available, particularly for plexiform neurofibromas, our NF Clinic is in a position to enroll many patients in clinical trials for certain treatments. Patients are sometimes surprised at the therapeutic options we now have at our disposal, and we’re pleased to be able to offer these new and promising clinical trials.

Pediatric Clinical Care Guidelines for Optic Pathway Gliomas

Continuing our review of the newly published pediatric NF clinical care resource, the next issue to cover is the optic pathway glioma, which is a tumor that occurs in 15% of children with NF1 and usually presents before six years of age.  Optic gliomas can involve one or both optic nerves or the optic chiasm, the area where optic nerves meet in front of the brain.  Although optic glioma is the most common central nervous system-associated tumor in children with NF1, most optic gliomas are non-progressive and do not require treatment. The guidelines emphasize the consensus recommendation of annual eye exams with a pediatric ophthalmologist for children with NF1 beginning at the time of diagnosis, and these exams should be performed more frequently or repeated if there is a concern.

Because a small percentage of optic pathway gliomas can lead to vision loss or precocious puberty, there has been significant discussion among NF clinicians about whether early detection is beneficial. The practice guidelines at this point recognize that there is controversy about neuroimaging as a baseline screening test for optic gliomas. Baseline neuroimaging is viewed as optional unless symptoms are present. The practice guidelines provide a useful table regarding indications for neuroimaging in children with NF1, including the following:

  • Focal sensory or motor symptoms confined to one area of the body;
  • New onset of seizures in the brain, although these are not common in NF;
  • Headaches; these are common in NF but if especially severe may be an indication for neuroimaging;
  • Signs of increased intracranial pressure, such as severe headache, lethargy, and vomiting.
  • Stroke-like symptoms, including vision problems, numbness, and tingling. These symptoms could indicate a vascular event, such as a transient ischemic attack.
  • Declining visual acuity. Because children typically don’t report this problem, it would be suspected based on increased clumsiness, tripping, or difficulty with hand/eye coordination.
  • Precocious puberty, which includes breast development and the onset of menses in girls and the development of pubic, underarm, or facial hair in boys as well as accelerated growth in girls and boys. This condition could indicate the presence of an optic pathway glioma with contiguous involvement of the hypothalamus.
  • Head and neck plexiform neurofibromas increasing in size or the development of new pain;
  • Decline in cognitive function over time;
  • Significant difference in arm or leg length.

The guidelines also discuss characteristic MRI findings that can occur in children with NF1, including T2 hyperintensities. Also known as “unidentified bright objects,” these benign lesions are visible on MRI predominantly in the basal ganglia, brainstem, and cerebellum. They typically appear in young children between the ages of two and 10 years of age and eventually regress and disappear. If the lesions enhance with contrast on MRI, this could indicate the presence of a low-grade glioma, though these also can be very slowly progressive or may not progress at all. The practice guidelines recommend clinical monitoring for symptoms such as headache, hydrocephalus, or cranial nerve dysfunction in the setting of glioma found by MRI.