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Brain Tumors in Children

What kinds of brain tumors are common in children?

Brain tumors are the second most common cancer in children. They can be benign (without cancer cells) or malignant (contain cancer cells).

A tumor that starts in the brain is called a primary brain tumor. A tumor that starts in another part of the body and spreads to the brain is a secondary tumor.

What is the cause?

It is not known why most brain tumors occur. The only known risk factor for brain tumors is being exposed to radiation. Rare cases of brain and spinal cord tumors run in families.

What are the symptoms?

Brain tumors may cause:

  • headaches
  • seizures
  • vision or speech problems
  • dizziness
  • weakness
  • trouble walking or handling objects
  • nausea and vomiting
  • mood changes such as depression.

If any of these symptoms occur without apparent cause, see your child's healthcare provider immediately.

How is it diagnosed?

A healthcare provider may order a computed tomographic (CT) scan. A CT scan uses computers and X-rays to create pictures of the body. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan may also be done. An MRI is a test similar to a CT scan, but an MRI uses magnetic waves instead of X-rays.

Often, surgery is required to determine whether a brain tumor exists and what type of tumor it is. A small sample of tumor tissue may be surgically removed and examined under a microscope. This is called a biopsy. Sometimes a biopsy is done by making a small hole in the skull and using a needle to extract a sample of the tumor.

What is the treatment?

There are many types of brain tumors that occur in children. Treatment and chance of recovery depend on the type of tumor, its location within the brain, how much it has spread, and your child's age and general health.

Treatments for your child may include:

  • Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy uses powerful drugs to kill cancer. The medicine may be taken by mouth or injected. Depending on the cancer, the child will need to have several treatments. Chemotherapy may cause side effects such as hair loss, vomiting, anemia, nausea, and fatigue. Some of the drugs also have long-term side effects such as damage to some organs in the body. This treatment can be used for children under 3 years.
  • Surgery. Surgery is used to remove the tumor if possible.
  • Radiation. Radiation uses high-energy waves or particles to kill cancer cells or shrink the tumor. It can affect the growth and development of a child's brain, so it is not recommended for children under 3 years old.

Where can I get more information?

Candlelighter's Childhood Cancer Foundation is a national support organization. It provides support for children with cancer and their parents. There are support groups for parents, funding for transportation, and send child cancer patients to special summer camps. Call 800-366-2223 or visit their Web site at

Other resources include the American Cancer Society at 800-ACS-2345 or and the National Cancer Institute at 800-4-CANCER or

Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2009-10-29
Last reviewed: 2009-04-02
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
2010 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All Rights Reserved.
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