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About Pediatric Brain Tumors

Pediatric brain tumors are abnormal growths that arise in the brain during childhood. Several treatment options are available, including close observation, surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Although brain tumors are rare overall, they are the most common solid tumor among children. What’s important to remember is that children are not simply miniature adults. Brain tumors in children behave differently than brain tumors in adults. What’s more, children require treatment that is tailored not just to their tumor type, but also to their age and development. At the Pediatric Neurosurgery Center, we are committed to meeting the special needs of young patients and their families.

Pediatric brain tumors can be either benign or malignant. Malignant, or cancerous, tumors tend to be fast-growing and aggressive, invading surrounding brain tissue. Benign tumors are not cancerous; they do not spread and they tend to be slow-growing. Even slow-growing benign brain tumors can eventually become problematic, though. Because the skull is a rigid structure with little unoccupied space inside, benign masses can cause problems as they compress brain tissue, nerves, blood vessels and other critical structures.

Depending on a tumor’s origin, it can also be classified as either primary or secondary. A primary tumor originates in the brain. A secondary tumor originates elsewhere in the body and spreads to the brain. (Only malignant tumors can spread and form secondary tumors.)

The most common pediatric brain tumors are:

  • Astrocytoma—These tumors arise from star-shaped support cells in the brain and spinal cord. There are several types of astrocytoma; the most common among children include juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma, brainstem glioma and cerebellar astrocytoma. About 40 percent of childhood brain tumors are astrocytomas, making this the most common brain tumor among children.
  • Medulloblastoma—This type of tumor arises in the cerebellum. It is the most common malignant brain tumor among children.
  • Ependymoma—Ependymomas arise from support cells in the brain and spinal cord. Ependymomas can be either benign or malignant. About 9 percent of childhood brain tumors are ependymomas.
  • Choroid plexus tumor—This tumor includes two types, choroid plexus papilloma and choroid plexus carcinoma. It occurs most often in the mid-teenage years, but also makes up a substantial proportion of tumors in infancy.
  • Craniopharyngioma—This tumor occurs near the pituitary and hypothalamus glands. It is relatively uncommon, making up about 6 percent of childhood brain tumors.
  • Pineal region tumors—The pineal region is an area in the middle of the brain that releases neurotransmitters. Several tumors in this region are more common in children than in adults, including germ cell tumors, pineal cell tumors and pineal cysts. Pineal region tumors are relatively uncommon, making up about 3 to 8 percent of childhood brain tumors.
  • Primitive neuroectodermal tumor—These rare tumors of neuroectodermal origin are typically found in the cerebrum.
  • Atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor (ATRT)—These rare tumors of neuroectodermal origin are typically found in the cerebellum in very young children.

Although not common among children, other brain tumors that can occur include oligodendroglioma, orbital tumor, pituitary tumor, ganglioglioma and meningioma. Despite being rare among children generally, meningioma is common among those children who have the genetic condition neurofibromatosis type 2.

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