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Brain and spinal cord tumors

About brain and spinal cord tumors in children

Pediatric brain tumors are growths of abnormal cells in a child’s brain or the structures and tissues that are near it.

Like brain tumors, spinal cord tumors in children happen when there is abnormal cell growth in or around the spinal cord.

What are the types of brain and spinal cord tumors you treat?

There are many types of brain and spinal tumors, both cancerous and noncancerous. Even the noncancerous tumors in the brain can cause significant symptoms. It’s important to know that the signs and symptoms of brain tumors in children can vary depending on the tumor size, type, location and growth rate.

Common brain and spinal tumors in children include:

  • Low-grade glioma
  • Medulloblastoma
  • Ependymoma
  • Germ cell tumor
  • High-grade glioma

Symptoms of brain and spinal cord tumors

The following can be symptoms of a brain tumor or spinal cord tumor. Talk to your child’s pediatrician if you see a combination of any of these concerning signs:

  • Headaches, which may become more frequent and severe
  • Feeling of increased pressure in the head
  • A fuller soft spot on the skull in babies
  • Seizures
  • Abnormal eye movement
  • Memory problems
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Loss of appetite
  • In babies, difficulty feeding
  • Unexplained nausea or vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Weakness or loss of sensation in an arm or a leg
  • Weakness or drooping on one side of the face

How do you diagnose brain and spinal cord tumors?

 The tests and procedures used to diagnose brain and spinal cord tumors include:

  • Neurological exam: We will check your child’s vision, hearing, balance, coordination, strength and reflexes to find clues about the part of brain that could be affected by a brain tumor.
  • Blood tests: Sometimes blood tests can provide clues for certain brain tumors such as germ cell tumors.
  • Imaging tests: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is commonly used to help diagnose brain tumors; sometimes computerized tomography (CT) is used as well.
  • Biopsy to collect and test a sample of abnormal tissue: A biopsy can be performed as part of an operation to remove the brain tumor, or a biopsy can be performed using a needle. The biopsy sample is then examined by a pathologist to determine the exact type of brain tumor.

Treatment options

The brain tumor treatment depends on the type of brain tumor, its size and location, as well as your child’s age.

It generally includes surgery to remove the brain tumor, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Each case is different. Our multidisciplinary pediatric neuro-oncology tumor board includes all specialists involved in your child’s care and will meet to discuss and determine the best approach to treatment.

Learn about our cancer care