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Treating brain tumors in children 

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Pediatric brain tumors 

Whether you’re looking for a second opinion or an evaluation for the treatment of a brain tumor, our pediatric neurosurgery team is dedicated to determining the best path of care customized to your child’s needs.

What are pediatric brain tumors?

A brain tumor develops when the healthy, normal cells inside the brain begin to grow and function differently. These cancerous cells can begin to build up and form a mass called a tumor. 
Brain tumors can vary in degrees of aggressiveness: lower-grade (less aggressive) or higher grade (very aggressive). Our dedicated pediatric neurosurgeon will analyze the grade of your child’s brain tumor to determine its rate of progression: 

  • Grades I and II are considered lower-grade tumors. These tend to grow more slowly and are less likely to affect nearby tissues
  • Grades III and IV are higher-grade tumors, which tend to grow more quickly. These may grow into nearby tissues and often require a higher level of care and treatment

Types of brain tumors in children

Some brain tumors are malignant, which means they are cancerous, while others are benign (non-cancerous). The most common type of pediatric brain tumor occurs in the posterior fossa, the small space in the skull located near the brainstem and cerebellum. Other common types of pediatric brain tumors occur in the cerebral hemispheres of the brain.

Common types of brain tumors in children include: 

  • Choroid plexus papilloma/carcinoma – A rare brain tumor that forms near the brain tissue that produces cerebrospinal fluid — a fluid that supports your child’s brain. These tumors can be benign or malignant.
  • Ependymoma tumors – This tumor can form on either the brain or the spinal cord and occurs mostly in young children. It forms in the ependymal cells that make cerebrospinal fluid — a fluid that supports your child’s brain. These tumors can be benign or malignant.
  • Gliomas – This tumor occurs in the brain and spinal cord. These are the most common types of brain tumors and their severity varies on their location and rate of growth.
  • Medulloblastoma – This is the most common malignant brain tumor in children and sometimes spreads to other parts of the brain and spinal cord. These tumors typically grow from the cerebellum (small brain), which can cause a buildup of fluid, putting pressure on the brain (hydrocephalus).
  • Meningeal tumors – This tumor grows in the meninges (membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord) and can compress nerves and vessels. Although it is the most common type of tumor that grows in the head, it rarely occurs in children.
  • Neuronal and mixed neuronal-glial tumors – Rare tumors that occur in the brain and spinal cord. They are usually benign and do not spread to other parts of the body, but can still create pressure, which can lead to seizures. In rare cases, they become aggressive and malignant.
  • Pilocytic astrocytoma – A slow-growing tumor that can develop in children and teens. The tumor is usually not aggressive but often requires surgery.
  • Germ cell tumors – These tumors begin in the embryonic (fetal) tissue and tend to grow around the pituitary gland or the pineal gland. Not all germ cell tumors require surgery. 

For some children, the cause of a brain tumor is hereditary; however, for the majority, the cause is unknown.

What are the signs and symptoms of brain tumors?

Brain tumor symptoms in children differ from those seen in adults, and children’s symptoms will vary depending on the size, type and location of the tumor. Common pediatric brain tumor symptoms may include:

  • Increased head pressure
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Severe or frequent headaches
  • Sudden vision problems
  • Developmental delays

More severe brain tumor symptoms in children may include: 

  • Balance issues
  • Fuller soft spot on the skull
  • Loss of appetite or difficulty feeding
  • Memory problems
  • No feeling in arms or legs
  • Personality changes
  • Problems hearing
  • Seizures
  • Slurred speech
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Weak arms or legs

The specific symptoms your child may be experiencing can help in determining the location of their brain tumor. If your child is showing any symptoms of a brain tumor, our pediatric neurosurgery team is here to help with a fast, accurate diagnosis and customized treatment plan.

Diagnosing brain tumors

To properly diagnose a brain tumor, our team will perform a few tests on your child. These tests may include: 

  • Physical exams: Our team will conduct a physical exam to evaluate your child’s condition.
  • Magnetic resonance imagining (MRI): MRIs use powerful radio waves and magnets to create detailed, 3D images of the brain.
  • Computerized tomography (CT or CAT) scans: CT scans use X-rays to obtain cross-sectional images of the brain. 
  • Spinal taps: A spinal tap allows the doctor to remove fluid from the spine to help make a diagnosis.
  • Bone scans: Bone scans are nuclear imaging tests that help our team make a diagnosis.
  • Biopsies: A biopsy is the removal of tissue that will allow our team to make a diagnosis and analyze the stage of any present disease.

These tests are necessary to help your child receive the best treatment possible, and we want to make sure you both fully understand your child’s treatment plan. We know that these tests can be scary for you and your little one, and we’ll help you through every step of the process.

How are brain tumors treated?

Treatment of pediatric brain tumors depends on the tumor type. New treatments and technologies are constantly evolving, which means your child may have more than one treatment option available to them.
Treating brain tumors in children is different than treating adults, which is why finding an experienced pediatric neurosurgeon is crucial to obtaining the most suitable care for your child. Our pediatric neurosurgery specialists are backed by years of research and experience. With the latest technology, our team will perform imaging tests and biopsies to determine cell types and the aggressiveness of their development.
We believe the best treatment is provided when multiple professionals are involved and caring for your child’s health and well-being. The treatment for a child with a brain tumor is complex and demands the collaboration of multiple teams, which may include:

  • Pediatric neurosurgeons
  • Pediatric neuro-oncologists
  • Pediatric neuroradiologists
  • Physical therapists
  • Pediatric neuropsychologists
  • Pediatric neuropathologists
  • Pediatric neurologists 

Our team is in constant collaboration with centers for pediatric neuro-oncology, which allows us to deliver the latest treatments to children. Our team is highly specialized in minimally-invasive brain surgery using state-of-the-art neuromonitoring and keyhole procedures. These enable the surgeon to enter the brain through a very small opening using cameras. 

When your child is diagnosed with a brain tumor, their care team becomes an important part of their treatment journey. Sometimes, a brain tumor may come back after initial treatment. If this happens, additional treatment such as surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy may be necessary. No matter your child’s journey, we will be there alongside you and your child during every step of their treatment.


Get complete pediatric neurological care

Our pediatric neurosurgery team and pediatric specialists are here to support your child through diagnosis and treatment.

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