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Brain Tumor and Brain Cancer—Child

  • Michael Jubinville, MPH
Publication Type:


Brain Tumor and Brain Cancer—Child


Brain tumors are abnormal growths in the brain.

There are two main types:

  • Primary—A tumor starts in the brain.
  • Secondary—Cancer spreads to the brain from another site in the body.
Brain Tumor.

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Cancer is when cells in the body split without control or order. They go on to form a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to harmful growths. These growths can invade nearby tissues. This can cause tissues to stop working or even have lasting harm. It is not clear what causes this. It may be a mix of genes and the environment.

Risk Factors

A child’s chances are higher if they have certain genes. Some health issues that may run in a family can also make the chances higher.


Symptoms depend on the tumor's size and where it is. A growing tumor will often have swelling build up around it. This can put pressure on the brain.

Brain tumor symptoms can be grouped by:
  • Those that are caused by higher pressure in the brain
  • Those that are due to the tumor causing problems at different places in the brain

Symptoms that are due to the higher pressure include:

  • Headaches—these get worse when lying down, a child has it when waking up, or the pain wakes a child up
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Double vision
Symptoms that are due to the tumor causing problems in different parts of the brain are:
  • Weak arms or legs
  • Loss of feeling in arms or legs
  • Personality changes
  • Seizures
  • Problems with:
    • Walking
    • Hearing
    • Seeing
    • Talking
    • Memory


The doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. The caregiver's answers and a physical exam may point to a brain tumor. The child may also have:

There are many types of tumors. A biopsy will help find the type. Knowing this helps guide treatment.


The goal of treatment is to get rid of the tumor. How that is done depends on the tumor type and where it is in the brain. Care may involve using different methods. Some methods may leave a child with lasting problems.


There is no way to prevent a brain tumor.


Medicines help control problems such as:

  • Brain swelling
  • Seizures


Medicines help control problems such as:

  • Brain swelling
  • Seizures


Options include:

  • Craniotomy—some or all of the tumor is removed during surgery
  • Shunt—a long thin tube is placed in the brain to drain fluid to another part of the body

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells or shrink tumors. This is a common treatment for brain tumors. At times, it may be used with chemotherapy.


Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. It may given by mouth or IV. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body.

Rehabilitation Therapy

This will help children get better faster. The length of time needed depends on the amount of damage. Therapy will help with:

  • Walking, balance, and building strength
  • Daily skills such as dressing, eating, and using the toilet
  • Speaking or swallowing problems

An educational specialist may also work with a school-age child. They can help with learning problems and getting a child back into school.





  • Brain tumors. American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Available at: https://www.aans.org/en/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Brain-Tumors.
  • Brain tumors. Boston Children's Hospital website. Available at: https://www.childrenshospital.org/conditions/brain-tumors.
  • Brain tumors. Children’s Wisconsin website. Available at: https://www.childrenswi.org/medical-care/macc-fund-center/conditions/oncology/brain-tumors.
  • Childhood brain and spinal cord tumors treatment overview (PDQ®)-patient version. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/brain/patient/child-brain-treatment-pdq.
  • Medulloblastoma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/medulloblastoma.
  • Types of brain tumors. UChicago Medicine Comer Children’s website. Available at: https://www.uchicagokidshospital.org/comer/conditions-services/pediatric-cancer/pediatric-brain-tumors/types-of-brain-tumors.


  • Rimas Lukas, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.