The cause of ependymomas is not known.
Symptoms depend on the location of the tumor and may include headaches, vomiting, listlessness, and problems with balance.
Diagnosis is made by an imaging test and a biopsy.
Treatment includes surgery, radiation therapy, and sometimes chemotherapy.
The prognosis depends on the child's age and on how much of the cancer is removed.
Ependymomas are the third most common central nervous system tumor in children Overview of Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors in Children The central nervous system is made up of the brain and spinal cord. Central nervous system tumors are the second most common cancer in children under 15 years of age (after leukemia) and the... read more , accounting for 10%. The majority of children diagnosed with ependymoma are about 6 years of age. However, about one third of cases occur in children younger than 3 years of age.
In children, most ependymomas develop in or near the area in the back of the brain at the bottom of the skull called the posterior fossa. This area contains the cerebellum (which helps control coordination and balance) and the brain stem (which controls critical body functions such as breathing).
Ependymomas also occur in the upper part of the brain called the supratentorial area. This area contains the cerebrum, fluid-filled spaces (ventricles), choroid plexus, hypothalamus, pineal gland, pituitary gland, and optic nerve.
Sometimes ependymomas develop in the spinal cord.
Symptoms of Ependymomas
Symptoms of ependymomas depend on the location of the tumor.
For ependymomas in the supratentorial area, symptoms can include changes in mood or personality, difficulty concentrating, headaches, seizures, and abnormal function of a specific area of the body.
For ependymomas in the posterior fossa, symptoms are typically related to increased pressure within the skull (intracranial pressure). Infants may not meet developmental milestones. They may be irritable, have an increased head circumference, and have no appetite. Older children have nausea, vomiting, headaches, listlessness, and problems with balance, coordination, and walking.
For ependymomas in the spinal cord, symptoms may include back pain, weakness, numbness/tingling, and difficulty controlling urination and bowel movements.
Diagnosis of Ependymomas
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and biopsy
The diagnosis of ependymoma is based on results of an MRI Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) In magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a strong magnetic field and very high frequency radio waves are used to produce highly detailed images. MRI does not use x-rays and is usually very safe... read more .
If a tumor is found, a sample is taken and sent to a laboratory for examination (biopsy).
Treatment of Ependymomas
Surgery, radiation therapy, and sometimes chemotherapy
(See also Cancer Treatment Principles Cancer Treatment Principles Treating cancer is one of the most complex aspects of medical care. It involves a team that encompasses many types of doctors working together (for example, primary care doctors, gynecologists... read more .)
Initial therapy is surgical removal Surgery for Cancer Surgery is a traditional form of cancer treatment. It is the most effective in eliminating most types of cancer before it has spread to lymph nodes or distant sites (metastasized). Surgery may... read more of as much of the tumor as is safely possible.
Radiation therapy Radiation Therapy for Cancer Radiation is a form of intense energy generated by a radioactive substance, such as cobalt, or by specialized equipment, such as an atomic particle (linear) accelerator. Radiation preferentially... read more increases the rate of survival and is usually done after surgery.
Chemotherapy Chemotherapy and Other Systemic Cancer Treatments Systemic treatments are those that have effects throughout the body rather than being applied directly to the cancer. Chemotherapy is a form of systemic treatment that uses drugs to kill cancer... read more does not seem to increase the rate of survival, but, in some children, it may help shrink the tumor before surgery or radiation therapy.
Prognosis for Ependymomas
How well the child does depends on the child's age, type of ependymoma, and on how much of the tumor can be removed.
Children who survive are at risk of developing problems with their brain, spinal cord, and nerves because of the side effects of surgery and radiation therapy.
The following English-language resource may be useful. Please note that THE MANUAL is not responsible for the content of this resource.
American Cancer Society: If Your Child Is Diagnosed With Cancer: A resource for parents and loved ones of a child who has cancer that provides information about how to cope with some of the problems and questions that come up just after a child is diagnosed