Pediatric Brain Tumor

What is a brain tumor in children?

A tumor is a mass of abnormal cells in the body. When a tumor starts in the brain, it's called a brain tumor. A tumor can form in different parts of the brain and in the nerve tissue in the spinal cord. The cells in a tumor might not be cancer (benign), or they might be cancer (malignant).

Both benign and malignant tumors can press on and affect parts of your child's brain and spinal cord.


What are the symptoms of a brain tumor in children?

Brain tumors don't always cause symptoms in children. When they do, it might mean that the tumor is pressing on or damaging parts of your child's brain. Possible symptoms include:

  • Headaches.
  • Frequent nausea and vomiting.
  • Vision changes.
  • Hearing or speech problems.
  • Unusual sleepiness.
  • Seizures.
  • Loss of balance or trouble walking.
  • New weakness in the face, arms, or legs.

Getting Support

How can you get support when your child has a brain tumor?

Learning that your child has a brain tumor can be overwhelming. You may feel many emotions and may need some help coping. Seek out family, friends, and counselors for support. You can also do things at home to make your child feel better during treatment.

Your care team can help you and your child understand what's going on in your child's body, what might happen during treatment, and what might come later. During treatment, you will get information about why your child is having the treatment, its risks, how to prepare, and what to do afterward.


How is a brain tumor in children diagnosed?

The doctor will ask you questions about your child's and your family's past health. Your child will get a physical exam. The doctor may check your child's reflexes, balance, sensation, and muscle coordination.

Your child will have imaging tests—such as a CT scan, an MRI, or both—to learn more about the tumor. Your child may also have blood tests.

The doctor will learn what kind of tumor your child has, where it is, and how the tumor might affect nearby brain tissue.

After these tests, the doctor may schedule a biopsy. That's a type of surgery that removes a sample of the tumor. It may be done before or at the start of surgery to remove the tumor. A small part of the skull is removed so that the doctor can take a sample of cells from the tumor. Some tumors can't be easily removed without harming the surrounding brain. So a biopsy is used to find out the best treatment for that type of tumor.


How are brain tumors in children treated?

Treatment for cancer that starts in the brain is based on the type and location of the cancer and other things, such as your child's age. Treatment options may include:


Surgery is often a key part of treatment. The doctor will remove as much of a tumor as possible without harming nearby brain tissue.

Radiation therapy.

This uses high-dose X-rays to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors.


These medicines kill fast-growing cells, including cancer cells and some normal cells.


This treatment helps the immune system fight cancer. It may be given in several ways.

The doctor will talk with you about the options and make a treatment plan for your child.

Copyrighted material adapted with permission from Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.