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Brain Cancer Health Center

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Childhood Brain Stem Glioma Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Patient Information [NCI] - General Information About Childhood Brain Stem Glioma


There are two types of brain stem gliomas in children.

Childhood brain stem glioma is either a diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) or focal or a low-grade glioma.

  • DIPG is a high-grade tumor that is fast-growing and spreads all through the brain stem. It is hard to treat and has a poor prognosis (chance of recovery).
  • A focal or low-grade glioma is slow-growing and is in one area of the brain stem. It is easier to treat than DIPG and has a better prognosis.

The cause of most childhood brain tumors is unknown.

Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your child's doctor if you think your child may be at risk. Possible risk factors for brain stem glioma include:

The signs and symptoms of brain stem glioma are not the same in every child.

Signs and symptoms depend on the following:

  • Where the tumor forms in the brain.
  • The size of the tumor and whether it has spread all through the brain stem.
  • How fast the tumor grows.
  • The child's age and development.

Some tumors do not cause signs or symptoms. Signs and symptoms may be caused by childhood brain stem gliomas or by other conditions. Check with your child's doctor if your child has any of the following:

  • Loss of ability to move one side of the face and/or body.
  • Loss of balance and trouble walking.
  • Vision and hearing problems.
  • Morning headache or headache that goes away after vomiting.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Unusual sleepiness.
  • More or less energy than usual.
  • Changes in behavior.
  • Trouble learning in school.

Tests that examine the brain are used to detect (find) childhood brain stem glioma.

The following tests and procedures may be used:

  • Physical exam and history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patient's health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
  • Neurological exam: A series of questions and tests to check the brain, spinal cord, and nerve function. The exam checks a person's mental status, coordination, and ability to walk normally, and how well the muscles, senses, and reflexes work. This may also be called a neuro exam or a neurologic exam.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) with gadolinium: A procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the brain. A substance called gadolinium is injected into a vein. The gadolinium collects around the cancer cells so they show up brighter in the picture. This procedure is also called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI).
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