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About Brainstem Glioma

Brainstem gliomas are tumors that grow in the brainstem, which connects the lower part of the brain to the top of the spinal cord. At Columbia University Medical Center/NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, our neurosurgeons specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of brainstem gliomas. Standard treatment varies depending on individual circumstances but may include surgical removal of the tumor, chemotherapy and/or radiation.

Although small, the brainstem controls functions critical for survival. Breathing, heart rate, digestion and muscular coordination are all managed by the brainstem. Any of these functions can be compromised by a brainstem glioma.

Brainstem gliomas are categorized as astrocytomas, which are a group of brain and spinal tumors that originate from astrocytes. Astrocytes are star-shaped glial cells—cells tasked with keeping the brain and spine in good health. All astrocytomas belong to a broader category of tumors called gliomas.

Depending on growth speed and aggressiveness, brainstem gliomas can be categorized as one of two types:

  • A diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) grows very quickly and invades other areas in the brainstem.
  • A focal glioma grows slowly and tends to stay in one area of the brainstem. The outlook for individuals with this type is better than for those with DIPG.

Most brainstem gliomas occur in children. About 10 to 20 percent of all brain tumors in children are brainstem gliomas.

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