Nick Cannon's 5-Month-Old Son Has Died of Brain Cancer

Nick Cannon shared devastating news with fans earlier today: His 5-month-old son Zen has died from a brain tumor.

"Over the weekend I lost my youngest son to a condition called hydrocephalus. That is pretty much a malignant, midline brain tumor — brain cancer," Cannon said on The Nick Cannon Show, tearing up. Zen, Cannon's seventh child, was diagnosed after his father noticed that he had a cough.

"I always noticed he had a cough and so I wanted to check it out," Cannon said. "He had this real interesting breathing and by the time he was two months old I noticed ... he had this nice-sized head too — I called it a Cannon head. We didn't think anything about it. But I wanted to take him to the doctor for his sinus and breathing. We thought it would be routine."

Cannon said that doctors discovered that fluid was building up in Zen's head, causing it to expand. He was diagnosed with a malignant (i.e. cancerous) brain tumor and had surgery to drain the fluid. But Zen's condition became worse around Thanksgiving.

"The process sped up," Cannon said. "Ultimately, it was cancer in the brain. The tumor began to grow a lot faster."

Cannon said that he "made an effort to spend the most quality time with Zen" this weekend. "We woke up on Sunday ... and went to the ocean with him," he said, before describing holding his son for the last time. "I was preparing my day as it normally went. I didn't know what it was going to be. But even by the time I got in the car headed for the airport, I had to turn around" to be with his son, he said.

"Not only did we get to see the sunrise, but we got to see the sunset, too," Cannon said.

"I didn't know how I was going to handle today," he continued. "But I wanted to grieve with my family." Cannon also took a moment to thank Zen's mom, Alyssa, for being "the strongest woman I've ever seen."

Zen's mother, Alyssa Scott, shared videos on her Instagram Stories of Zen. In them, the baby smiles after taking a nap and even appears like he's trying to talk in another.

Cannon's news raises a lot of questions about hydrocephalus and how it can be caused by a brain tumor. Here's what you need to know.

What is hydrocephalus?

Hydrocephalus is an abnormal buildup of fluid in the ventricles (i.e. cavities) within the brain, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). That extra fluid forces the ventricles to widen and puts pressure on the brain's tissues.

Why is hydrocephalus so dangerous?

Under normal circumstances, cerebrospinal fluid (the clear, colorless fluid that protects and cushions the brain and spine) flows through the ventricles, brain, and spinal cord, before being absorbed into the bloodstream, the NINDS explains. But, when it's blocked, the fluid can build up and keep the brain from functioning.

That can lead to brain damage and even death. "Your brain needs to have blood and oxygen to survive and, when there's a blockage of the spinal fluid, it increases the intracranial pressure," Charles C. Park, MD, PhD, director of The Minimally Invasive Brain and Spine Center at Mercy Medical Center, tells Health. "Then, your brain is not getting enough oxygen and that's when it's deadly."

How common is hydrocephalus?

It's difficult to know an exact number, given that this is a condition that can happen in children and adults. But a 2008 data review from the University of Utah estimated that, in 2003, hydrocephalus made up 0.6% of all pediatric hospitalizations in the U.S.

What are the symptoms of hydrocephalus?

Symptoms can vary, depending on a person's age. The NINDS says these are the most common symptoms in infants:

  • a rapid increase in head size
  • an unusually large head
  • a bulge on the soft spot on the top of the head
  • vomiting
  • problems sucking or feeding
  • sleepiness
  • irritability
  • eyes that are fixed downward or are not able to turn outward
  • seizures

Hydrocephalus can cause these symptoms in older children, young adults, and middle-aged adults:

  • headache
  • blurred or double vision
  • nausea or vomiting
  • problems with balance
  • slowing or loss of developmental progress like walking or talking
  • vision problems
  • decline in school or job performance
  • poor coordination
  • loss of bladder control and/or frequent urination
  • difficulty remaining awake or waking up
  • sleepiness
  • irritability
  • changes in personality or cognition including memory loss.

These are the main symptoms in older adults:

  • problems walking
  • progressive mental impairment and dementia
  • general slowing of movements
  • loss of bladder control and/or frequent urination
  • poor coordination and balance

Dr. Parks says that it's "very common" for an infant with hydrocephalus to have heads that appear larger than those of other babies. "In babies, the cranial sutures in the skull have not formed yet," he explains. "The babies have the ability to expand their skull, and that's why the head becomes big."

How is hydrocephalus treated?

Hydrocephalus is usually treated with shunt (i.e. drainage system) inserted into one of the brain's ventricles, Park says. A tube from the shunt is tunneled under the skin to another part of the body, like the stomach, where the extra fluid can be more easily absorbed.

People who have hydrocephalus usually need a shunt system for the rest of their lives and require careful monitoring, the Mayo Clinic says. Another procedure, called an endoscopic third ventriculostomy may also be used to make a hole in the bottom of one of the ventricles to allow cerebrospinal fluid to flow out of the brain.

People can live healthy lives with hydrocephalus, Dr. Park says. And, he points out, "a shunt is done very often with hydrocephalus and very successfully." But, if a tumor is involved as it was with Zen's case, the cancer can be deadly.

Cannon said on the show that he will be taking some time off to grieve his loss. "You can't heal until you feel," he said.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles