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Brain Cancer Health Center

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Childhood Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors Treatment Overview (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Classification of Central Nervous System Tumors

The classification of childhood central nervous system (CNS) tumors is based on histology and location.[1] Tumors are classically categorized as infratentorial, supratentorial, parasellar, or spinal. Immunohistochemical analysis, cytogenetic and molecular genetic findings, and measures of proliferative activity are increasingly used in tumor diagnosis and classification and will likely affect classification and nomenclature in the future.

Primary CNS spinal cord tumors comprise approximately 1% to 2% of all childhood CNS tumors. The classification of spinal cord tumors is based on histopathologic characteristics of the tumor and does not differ from that of primary brain tumors.[1]

Infratentorial (posterior fossa) tumors include the following:

  1. Cerebellar astrocytomas (most commonly pilocytic, but also fibrillary and less frequently, high grade).
  2. Medulloblastomas (including classic, desmoplastic/nodular, extensive nodularity, anaplastic, or large cell variants).
  3. Ependymomas (cellular, papillary, clear cell, tanycytic, or anaplastic).
  4. Brain stem gliomas (typically diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas and focal, tectal, and exophytic cervicomedullary gliomas are most frequently pilocytic astrocytomas).
  5. Atypical teratoid/rhabdoid tumors.
  6. Choroid plexus tumors (papillomas and carcinomas).
  7. Rosette-forming glioneuronal tumors of the fourth ventricle.

Supratentorial tumors include the following:

  1. Low-grade cerebral hemispheric astrocytomas (grade I [pilocytic] astrocytomas or grade II [diffuse] astrocytomas).
  2. High-grade or malignant astrocytomas (anaplastic astrocytomas and glioblastoma [grade III or grade IV]).
  3. Mixed gliomas (low- or high-grade).
  4. Oligodendrogliomas (low- or high-grade).
  5. Primitive neuroectodermal tumors (PNETs) (cerebral neuroblastomas, pineoblastomas, and ependymoblastomas).
  6. Atypical teratoid/rhabdoid tumors.
  7. Ependymomas (cellular or anaplastic).
  8. Meningiomas (grades I, II, and III).
  9. Choroid plexus tumors (papillomas and carcinomas).
  10. Tumors of the pineal region (pineocytomas, pineoblastomas, pineal parenchymal tumors of intermediate differentiation, and papillary tumors of the pineal region), and germ cell tumors.
  11. Neuronal and mixed neuronal glial tumors (gangliogliomas, desmoplastic infantile astrocytoma/gangliogliomas, dysembryoplastic neuroepithelial tumors, and papillary glioneuronal tumors).
  12. Other low-grade gliomas (including subependymal giant cell tumors and pleomorphic xanthoastrocytoma).
  13. Metastasis (rare) from extraneural malignancies.

Parasellar tumors include the following:

  1. Craniopharyngiomas.
  2. Diencephalic astrocytomas (central tumors involving the chiasm, hypothalamus, and/or thalamus) that are generally low-grade (including astrocytomas, grade I [pilocytic] or grade II [diffuse]).
  3. Germ cell tumors (germinomas or nongerminomatous).

Spinal cord tumors include the following:

  1. Low-grade cerebral hemispheric astrocytomas (grade I [pilocytic] astrocytomas or grade II [diffuse] astrocytomas).
  2. High-grade or malignant astrocytomas (anaplastic astrocytomas and glioblastoma [grade III or grade IV]).
  3. Gangliogliomas.
  4. Ependymomas (often myxopapillary).


  1. Louis DN, Ohgaki H, Wiestler OD, et al., eds.: WHO Classification of Tumours of the Central Nervous System. 4th ed. Lyon, France: IARC Press, 2007.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

    Last Updated: May 28, 2015
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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