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Brain tumors are relatively rare in children, occurring in only five of every 100,000 children. Childhood brain tumors can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous), but both types can be life-threatening. It’s worth noting that children with brain tumors often have a better prognosis than adults with a similar condition, and most children and adolescents who are diagnosed with a brain tumor will survive into adulthood.

Brain tumors have traditionally been given names (classified) based on the tumor’s location within the brain and according to how they look under a microscope. However, as scientists learn more about the specific genetic mutations within childhood brain tumors, they are starting to formulate more specific diagnoses, as well as targeted treatments (precision medicine) to treat childhood brain tumors.

It is important that children with brain tumors be treated at a specialized pediatric brain tumor center. The types of brain tumors most common in children are not the same as those most common in adults. Childhood brain tumors frequently appear in different locations within the brain and behave differently than brain tumors in adults.

Types of Pediatric Brain Tumors: 

  (Click on the 'plus' sign to the left of each item to read a brief summary.)

Medulloblastoma

Medulloblastoma is a common type of primary brain cancer in children. It originates in the part of the brain that is towards the back and the bottom, on the floor of the skull, in the cerebellum, or posterior fossa.

Astrocytomas

Astrocytoma is a type of brain tumor. Astrocytomas originate from a specific kind of star-shaped glial cell in the cerebrum called an astrocyte. This type of tumor does not usually spread outside the brain and spinal cord and it does not usually affect other organs.

Oligodendroglioma

Oligodendrogliomas are a type of glioma that are believed to originate from the oligodendrocytes of the brain or from a glial precursor cell. They occur primarily in adults but are also found in children.

Neuroblastoma

Neuroblastoma is a type of cancer that forms in certain types of nerve tissue. It most frequently starts from one of the adrenal glands but can also develop in the head, neck, chest, abdomen, or spine. Symptoms may include bone pain, a lump in the abdomen, neck, or chest, or a painless bluish lump under the skin.

Germ Cell Tumor

Germ cell tumor is a neoplasm derived from germ cells. Germ-cell tumors can be cancerous or benign. Germ cells normally occur inside the gonads. GCTs that originate outside the gonads may be birth defects resulting from errors during development of the embryo.

Primitive Neuroectodermal Tumor

Primitive neuroectodermal tumor is a malignant neural crest tumor. It is a rare tumor, usually occurring in children and young adults under 25 years of age. The overall 5 year survival rate is about 53%.

Optic Nerve Glioma

Optic nerve glioma, a form of glioma which affects the optic nerve, is often one of the central nervous system manifestations of neurofibromatosis 1. Optic gliomas are usually pilocytic tumors, and can involve the optic nerve or optic chiasm.

Anaplastic Astrocytoma

Anaplastic astrocytoma is a rare WHO grade III type of astrocytoma, which is a type of cancer of the brain. In the United States, the annual incidence rate for anaplastic astrocytoma is 0.44 per 100,000 people.

Ependymoma

An ependymoma is a tumor that arises from the ependyma, a tissue of the central nervous system. Usually, in pediatric cases the location is intracranial, while in adults it is spinal. The common location of intracranial ependymomas is the fourth ventricle. Rarely, ependymomas can occur in the pelvic cavity.

Craniopharyngioma

A craniopharyngioma is a rare type of brain tumor derived from pituitary gland embryonic tissue that occurs most commonly in children, but also affects adults.

Glioblastoma

Glioblastoma, previously known as glioblastoma multiforme, is the most aggressive and most common type of cancer that originates in the brain, and has very poor prognosis for survival. Initial signs and symptoms of glioblastoma are nonspecific.

Brainstem Glioma

A brainstem glioma is a cancerous glioma tumor in the brainstem. Around 75% are diagnosed in children and young adults under the age of twenty, but have been known to affect older adults as well. Brainstem gliomas start in the brain or spinal cord tissue and typically spread throughout the nervous system.

Atypical Teratoid Rhabdoid Tumor

An atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor is a rare tumor usually diagnosed in childhood. Although usually a brain tumor, AT/RT can occur anywhere in the central nervous system, including the spinal cord. About 60% will be in the posterior cranial fossa.

Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma

Diffuse midline glioma, H3K27 altered, previously called diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma is a fatal tumour that arises in the brainstem; most commonly in the pons or thalamus.

Pineoblastoma

Pineoblastoma is a malignant tumor of the pineal gland. A pineoblastoma is a supratentorial midline primitive neuroectodermal tumor. Pineoblastoma can present at any age, but is most common in young children. They account for 0.001% of all primary CNS neoplasms.

Pleomorphic Xanthoastrocytoma

Pleomorphic xanthoastrocytoma is a brain tumor that occurs most frequently in children and teenagers. At Boston Children's Hospital, the average age at diagnosis is 12 years. Pleomorphic xanthoastrocytoma usually develops within the supratentorial region.

Meningioma

Meningioma, also known as meningeal tumor, is typically a slow-growing tumor that forms from the meninges, the membranous layers surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms depend on the location and occur as a result of the tumor pressing on nearby tissue. Many cases never produce symptoms.

Gliomas

A glioma is a type of tumor that starts in the glial cells of the brain or the spine. Gliomas comprise about 30 percent of all brain tumors and central nervous system tumours, and 80 percent of all malignant brain tumours.

Pilocytic Astrocytoma

Pilocytic astrocytoma is a brain tumor that occurs most commonly in children and young adults. They usually arise in the cerebellum, near the brainstem, in the hypothalamic region, or the optic chiasm, but they may occur in any area where astrocytes are present, including the cerebral hemispheres and the spinal cord.

Choroid Plexus Tumors

Choroid plexus tumors are a rare type of cancer that occur from the brain tissue called choroid plexus of the brain. Choroid plexus tumors are uncommon tumors of the central nervous system that account for 0.5–0.6% of intracranial neoplasms in people of all ages.

Pituitary Adenoma

Pituitary adenomas are tumors that occur in the pituitary gland. Most pituitary tumors are benign, approximately 35% are invasive and just 0.1% to 0.2% are carcinomas.

Ganglioglioma

Ganglioglioma is a rare, slow-growing primary central nervous system tumor which most frequently occurs in the temporal lobes of children and young adults.

Diffuse Astrocytomas

Fibrillary astrocytomas are a group of primary slow-growing brain tumors that typically occur in adults between the ages of 20 and 50.

Chordoma

Chordoma is a rare slow-growing neoplasm thought to arise from cellular remnants of the notochord. The evidence for this is the location of the tumors (along the neuraxis), the similar immunohistochemical staining patterns, and the demonstration that notochordal cells are preferentially left behind in the clivus and sacrococcygeal regions when the remainder of the notochord regresses during fetal life.

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