Brain tumors are abnormal growths in the brain.
There are two main types:
- Primary—A tumor starts in the brain.
- Secondary—Cancer spreads to the brain from another site in the body.
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Cancer is when cells in the body split without control or order. They go on to form a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to harmful growths. These growths attack nearby tissues. They also spread to the brain or spinal cord. It's not clear what causes this. It’s likely a mix of genes and the environment.
Your child’s chances are higher if they have certain genes. Certain syndromes that run in your family can also make the chances higher.
Symptoms depend on the tumor's size and where it is. A growing tumor will often have fluid buildup around it. Fluid puts pressure on the brain. Pressure may cause:
- Headaches—grow worse over weeks or months
- Vomiting—mainly in the morning
- Weak arms or legs
- Loss of feeling in arms or legs
- Personality changes
The doctor will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. Your answers and a physical exam may point to a brain tumor. They may also have:
- Imaging tests such as:
- Biopsy — a sample of the tumor is studied in a lab
There are many types of tumors. Test results and a biopsy will help find the type. Knowing this helps guide treatment.
Care depends on the type and location of the tumor. Care may involve using different methods. Some methods may leave your child with lasting problems.
Medicines help control problems such as:
- Brain swelling
- Craniotomy —some or all of the tumor is removed through a small hole in the skull
- Shunt—a long thin tube is placed in the brain to drain fluid to another part of the body
Radiation therapy is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells or shrink tumors. This is a common treatment for brain tumors. At times, it may be used with chemotherapy. Radiation therapy may be:
- External —Radiation is directed at the tumor from a source outside the body. Tumors that spread from another area of the body are treated with whole brain radiation therapy (WBRT).
- Internal—Radioactive materials are placed into the body near the cancer cells.
- Stereotactic radiosurgery —Higher doses of radiation can be delivered to specific areas of the brain.
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. It may given by mouth, shots, or IV. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body.
Some drugs can be placed into the spinal cord.
This will help your child get better faster. The length of time needed depends on the amount of damage. Therapy will help with:
- Walking, balance, and building strength
- Daily skills such as dressing, eating, and using the toilet
- Speaking or swallowing problems
Your child may also work with an educational specialist. They can help with learning problems and getting your child back into school.
There is no way to prevent a brain tumor since the cause is unknown.
American Brain Tumor Association
American Cancer Society
Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada
Canadian Cancer Society
Brain tumors. American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Available at: http://www.aans.org/en/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Brain-Tumors. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Brain tumors. Boston Children's Hospital website. Available at: http://www.childrenshospital.org/conditions-and-treatments/conditions/b/brain-tumors. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Brain tumors. Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin website. Available at: https://www.chw.org/medical-care/neuroscience/conditions/brain-tumors. Accessed January 29, 2021.
General information about childhood brain and spinal cord tumors. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/brain/patient/child-brain-treatment-pdq. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Medulloblastoma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T917475/Medulloblastoma. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Types of pediatric brain and spinal cord tumors. Comer Children’s website. Available at: http://www.uchicagokidshospital.org/specialties/cancer/brain-spinal/index.html. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP Last Updated: 1/29/2021