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Overview of Brain Tumors in Children


Renee Gresh

, DO, Nemours A.I. duPont Hospital for Children

Medically Reviewed Jun 2021 | Modified Sep 2022
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Brain tumors are the most common solid cancer in children < 15 years of age and are the 2nd leading cause of childhood death due to cancer. Diagnosis is typically by imaging (usually MRI) and biopsy. Treatment may include surgical resection, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

The cause of most childhood central nervous system tumors is unknown, but two established risk factors are ionizing radiation (eg, high-dose cranial irradiation) and specific genetic syndromes (eg, neurofibromatosis Neurofibromatosis Neurofibromatosis refers to several related disorders that have overlapping clinical manifestations but that are now understood to have distinct genetic causes. It causes various types of benign... read more Neurofibromatosis ).

The most common central nervous system tumors in children are (in order)

Symptoms and Signs of Brain Tumors in Children

Increased intracranial pressure is the cause of the most common manifestations, which include

  • Headache

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Irritability

  • Lethargy

  • Changes in behavior

  • Gait and balance disorders

Diagnosis of Brain Tumors in Children

  • MRI

  • Biopsy

MRI is the imaging test of choice because it provides more detailed images of parenchymal tumors and can detect tumors within the posterior fossa, subarachnoid spaces, and the arachnoid and pia mater. CT may be done but is less sensitive and less specific.

Biopsy may be done to confirm the diagnosis and to determine tumor type and grade.

Once the diagnosis is made, staging, grading, and risk assessment are determined. Staging includes an MRI of the entire spine, a lumbar puncture for cerebrospinal fluid cytology, and a postoperative MRI to assess for any residual tumor. The World Health Organization (WHO) has created a commonly used grading system that includes molecular and histologic information to further classify central nervous system tumors. Risk assessment is based on age, degree of residual tumor, and evidence of spread of disease.

Treatment of Brain Tumors in Children

  • Surgical resection

  • Radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination

After tumor removal, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or both are usually required.

Entry into a clinical trial, if available, should be considered for all children with a brain tumor. Optimal treatment requires a multidisciplinary team of pediatric oncologists, pediatric neuro-oncologists, pediatric neurosurgeons, neuropathologists, neuroradiologists, and radiation oncologists who have experience treating brain tumors in children. Because radiation therapy for brain tumors is technically demanding, children should be sent to centers that have experience in this area if possible.

More Information

The following is an English-language resource that may be useful. Please note that THE MANUAL is not responsible for the content of this resource.

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