A brain tumor is an abnormal growth of tissue in the brain. The brain is part of the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS also includes the spinal cord. The main parts of the brain are:
Brain tumors start in the cells of the brain. They can be either of the below:
Brain tumors can occur at any age. Brain tumors that occur in infants and children are very different from adult brain tumors.
The most common type of brain tumor is a glioma. Gliomas begin from glial cells, which make up the supportive tissue of the brain. There are different types of glioma:
Other types of brain tumors include:
Doctors don’t know why certain children develop a brain tumor. Rarely brain tumors are the result of exposure to radiation, or from a familial cancer syndrome.
Children with certain genetic conditions have an increased risk for tumors of the central nervous system. This includes children with:
Children who have had radiation therapy for other cancers of the head are also at an increased risk for a new brain tumor.
Symptoms vary depending on size and location of tumor. Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each child.
Growing tumors may cause increased pressure on the brain in the limited space in the skull. This is called increased intracranial pressure or ICP. This isn’t usually the case in babies, since their skull bones haven’t fully grown together. The pressure on the brain may cause symptoms such as:
Symptoms of brain tumors in the cerebrum can include:
Symptoms of brain tumors in the cerebellum can include:
Symptoms of brain tumors in the brainstem can include:
The symptoms of a brain tumor can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees a healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Your child's healthcare provider will ask about your child's health history and symptoms. He or she will examine your child. This will include a neurological exam. The exam tests reflexes, muscle strength, eye and mouth movement, and coordination. Your child's healthcare provider may refer your child to a doctor specializing in the nervous system (neurologist or neurosurgeon) or to cancer specialist (oncologist). Your child may have tests such as:
These tests will show where and how much cancer there is in your child's body. These are important things to know when deciding how to best treat the cancer and what outcomes to expect. Some types of cancer use standard staging systems of numbers and letters to note this information and whether the cancer has spread. Brain tumors are not staged this way because they usually don't spread. Instead, when planning treatment and predicting outcomes, your child's doctors will look at things like:
The doctor will also consider the grade of the cancer cells. This is a measure of how quickly the cells are likely to grow and spread based on much the cancer cells look like normal cells. High-grade cancer cells look very different from normal cells and are more likely to grow and spread quickly.
Your child's doctor will talk to you about these things and recommend treatment for your child. These can be long and complex discussions. Be sure to ask questions and have the doctor explain things to you in a way you understand so you can make the best decisions for your child.
Since brain tumors in children are not common, it is important to find a healthcare team that has experience and skill in treating children with brain tumors.
Treatment may include one or more of the below:
Other treatments may include:
With any cancer, how well a child is expected to recover (prognosis) varies. Keep in mind:
A child may have complications from the tumor or from treatment, such as:
A child with a brain tumor needs ongoing care. Your child will be seen by oncologists and other healthcare providers to treat any late effects of treatment and to watch for signs or symptoms of the tumor returning. Your child will be checked with imaging tests and other tests. And your child may see other healthcare providers for problems from the tumor or from treatment. For example, your child may see an eye doctor (ophthalmologist) for vision problems.
Your child may need therapy to help with movement and muscle strength. This may be done by physical and occupational therapists. If your child's speech is affected, he or she may need help from a speech therapist. Your child may also need the help of other therapists for learning or emotional problems.
You can help your child manage his or her treatment in many ways. For example:
Call the healthcare provider if your child has:
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider: