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