Life After Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors in Children

Once treatment for a brain or spinal cord tumor ends for a child, a new and challenging chapter begins. The physical recovery can take a long time, as parents and doctors watch carefully for any signs of permanent brain damage. For the child, there may be some emotional and social adjustments. Physical rehabilitation might be needed, too.

Your child may see a long list of doctors, therapists, and other medical professionals after treatment. Support groups, family, friends, and mental health counselors can play important roles in helping your child with the emotional recovery in the months and years after treatment.

Follow-up Care

Brain and spinal cord tumor surgery usually requires at least a few days of recovery in the hospital. The time could be longer, depending on your child’s age, overall health, and the type of treatment. Chemotherapy or radiation therapy after surgery may be necessary. That could also affect how much time your child spends in the hospital.

Painless tests, such as computed tomography (CT) and MRI may be done during recovery. Both of these provide doctors with images of the brain to help them see if there have been any obvious changes.

Depending on your child’s condition, she may need a stay in a rehabilitation center.

She’ll have a team of doctors and nurses. Together, they’ll come up with a post-surgery treatment and recovery plan. Here’s a list of some of the specialists your child may see:

  • Neurologist to evaluate and treat conditions of the nervous system
  • Endocrinologist to help make sure your child has the right hormone levels for healthy growth and development
  • Physical therapist to help with walking and other large-muscle activities
  • Occupational therapist to help with smaller muscle function, such as using eating utensils, buttoning a shirt, brushing teeth, and similar activities
  • Speech therapist to help improve talking and communication skills
  • Ophthalmologist to check your child’s vision
  • Audiologist to check your child’s hearing
  • Psychiatrist or psychologist to evaluate any changes in your child’s learning ability, memory, general intelligence, and other related areas


Warning Signs

Before your child leaves the hospital, her doctors and nurses will educate you about home care and recovery. They’ll tell you the signs that might mean your child’s health is in danger.

After you get home, you should call 911 if your child has trouble breathing or has a seizure -- especially if it’s different from previous seizures or if your child has never had one.

Other symptoms that should prompt a call to your child’s doctor include:

Call your doctor anytime you have questions about your child’s health during recovery.

Daily Life

The quality of life after brain or spinal cord tumor treatment is determined by the extent of the illness and its treatment. Your child could fully recover from tumor treatment in as little as a few months, or it could take her more than a year. Some children might have few lasting problems related to their cancer. Others may have learning problems or may have some restrictions on sports and other recreational activities. The first year is usually the most challenging.

As much as possible, your child should attend school, spend time with friends, and try to re-establish normal routines. Understand that her friends and classmates may not understand much about brain or spinal cord tumors. You can help bridge this gap by working with your child’s teacher.

Some medical centers have programs to help schools make your child’s adjustment successful. These programs provide schools with a student’s health information and advice about any special education or services that may be needed.

Long-Term Concerns

One of the great challenges in dealing with life after brain or spinal cord tumor treatment is that some effects may not become obvious for years afterward. This is especially true if your child is very young when treated. Some learning disabilities may not show up until she’s been in school for some time.

Your child might be at a higher risk for other tumors developing later in life. It’ll be important to follow the doctor’s advice about ongoing checkups and long-term care.

As your child grows, she may have some resentment about having had to go through treatment and recovery. She might also be worry about having a normal life down the road. This is where the support of friends, family, and others who have gone through similar experiences can make a positive difference.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on February 02, 2019



American Cancer Society: “Recovering from the Effects of the Tumor and Its Treatment,” “Social, Emotional, and Other Issues in Children with Brain or Spinal Cord Tumors.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Care and Recovery After Brain Surgery.”

American Association of Neurological Surgeons: “Spinal Tumors.”

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital: “What to Expect When Your Child Needs Brain Tumor Surgery.”

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