Brain tumors are relatively rare in children, occurring in only five of every 100,000 children. Childhood brain tumors can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous), but both types can be life-threatening. However, it’s worth noting that children with brain tumors often have a better prognosis than adults with a similar condition, and most children and adolescents who are diagnosed with a brain tumor will survive into adulthood.
Brain tumors have traditionally been given names (classified) based on the tumor’s location within the brain and according to how they look under a microscope. However, as scientists learn more about the specific genetic mutations within childhood brain tumors, they are starting to formulate more specific diagnoses, as well as targeted treatments (precision medicine) to treat childhood brain tumors.
Each child may experience symptoms of a brain tumor differently, and symptoms vary depending on the size and location of the tumor—both in the brain and elsewhere in the central nervous system.
Brain tumors can cause pressure on the brain, causing the following symptoms:
Symptoms of brain tumors in the cerebellum, including cerebellar pilocytic astrocytoma and medulloblastoma, include:
Brain tumors in the brainstem, such as diffuse pontine glioma and tectal glioma, can cause the following symptoms:
Symptoms of brain tumors in the cerebrum, including ganglioglioma, glioblastoma multiforme and oligodendroglioma, include:
Tumors in the optic pathway (eyes), such as optic pathway glioma, may cause symptoms such as:
Symptoms of tumors in the spine (sometimes spreading from a tumor at a higher point on the spinal cord), including meningioma, may include:
Diagnostic procedures for brain tumors are used to determine the exact type of tumor a child has and whether the tumor has spread. These may include:
After all tests are completed, doctors will be able to outline the best treatment options.
Treatment for brain tumors in children has progressed tremendously in the last decade. These treatments include:
A genetic test can explain why a child or young adult developed cancer and can help predict whether he is at risk for other conditions.