Brain Cancer (Child)

What Is Brain Cancer? (Child)


The brain is one of the most complex and magnificent organs in the human body. It is a delicate organ consisting of billions of nerves protected by the skull. The brain receives input from the sensory organs and in response, sends output to the muscles. It controls the functions of all the other organs.

The brain is the processing center of a constant stream of sensory data. It controls all the muscle movements, the secretions of glands, breathing and internal temperature. Every creative thought, feeling, and plan is developed by the brain. The brain’s neurons record the memory of every event.
The brain contains-

Parts of the brain

The main parts of the brain are:

What is Brain Cancer (Children)?

Brain and spinal cord tumors are masses of abnormal cells in the brain or spinal cord that have grown out of control. Brain tumours are the most common form of solid tumours among children. Brain tumors destroy brain cells indirectly by pushing on other parts of the brain.

This pressure gradually gives way to several symptoms of brain cancer. Brain tumors are classified based on the location of the tumor, the type of tissue involved, and the type of tumor. The tumors that originate in the brain are called primary brain tumors and they are further classified into:

Benign tumors do not spread into nearby tissues or spread to distant areas, and are generally not life threatening. But the malignant tumors can spread throughout the body thus posing a danger to life. Sometimes, tumors that start out less aggressive can change their behaviour and become aggressive.

Types of Brain Tumors

There are many different types of brain tumors. Some are cancerous while others aren’t. Brain tumors are categorized based on its location, the type of cells involved, and the pace of growth. Based on multiple factors tumors are grouped into the following categories:

Astrocytomas or low grade tumors

are slow-growing tumors most common among children in the age group of 5 to 8. Pilocytic astrocytomas are generally benign tumors but diffuse astrocytomas are usually slow growing, but may not be benign.


are the most common type of brain cancer found in children below the age of 10.


can be benign or malignant. These are further subcategorized based on their location and type. The therapy and prognosis varies for each subtype.

Brainstem gliomas

are very rare tumors that occur only in children. The average age at which they develop is about 6. These tumors usually do not cause any prominent symptom until they grow very large in size.


are non-cancerous tumors that form at the base of the brain near the pituitary gland. Though these tumors are more common among children but may also occur in adults in late 50’s or 60’s.

Germ cell tumors

usually form in the testes or ovaries but can also form in the brain and central nervous system. Childhood central nervous system (CNS) germ cell tumors rarely spread outside of the brain and spinal cord

Pontine gliomas are cancerous, high-grade tumors that form in a part of the brainstem called the pons.

Optic nerve gliomas

form in or around the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain. Most optic nerve gliomas are noncancerous and slow-growing.

Occurrence Rate of Brain Cancer among children

Tumors of the central nervous system are the second most common childhood tumor after leukemia, accounting for about 35% of all childhood malignancies. They are also the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in children. Childhood central nervous system (CNS) tumors differ significantly from adult brain tumors in reference to their sites of origin, clinical presentation, tendency to disseminate early, histological features and their biological behaviour. A recent study on paediatric cancer concluded that childhood cancer incidence appears to be increasing in India.

In India, due to lack of registration of newly diagnosed cases with local cancer registries, the exact number of tumor cases goes unnoticed and is underestimated. Due to the high incidence and mortality of childhood CNS tumors, they form the most demanding group of tumors for neuro-oncologists. According to a recent study, the most common brain tumors in the pediatric age group in descending order are astrocytoma, medulloblastoma, craniopharyngioma followed closely by ependymoma.

Tumor type in Childhood AAR per million
(0-14 years) Boys Girls
Leukemia 35.7-61.3 22.3-40.2
Lymphoma 9.9-25.6 2.9-10.1
Central-nervous-system tumor 6.6-19.8 3.0-16.0
SNS tumor 1.5-12.6 1.8-5.3
Retinoblastoma 1.9-12.3 1.3-6.7
Renal tumor 3.1-9.5 1.8-7.0
Hepatic tumor 0.5-2.0 1.0-1.8
Bone tumor 2.8-9.0 2.3-6.2
Soft tissue Sarcoma 2.8-7.2 1.6-7.6
Germ cell tumor 1.3-12.9 0.2-1.3
AAR : Age-adjusted rates; Source: NCRP report 2009–2011 [4].

Anatomy of Brain?

What Are The General Symptoms Of Brain Cancer?

Brain tumours can cause many different signs and symptoms. There is a difference between a sign and symptom. Patient will feel a symptom, but a sign is usually detected in medical tests. Both signs and symptoms are assessed when making a diagnosis.

The symptoms of brain tumor are caused due to the tumor growth pressing on the surrounding parts of the brain, or by causing a build up of spinal fluid, a condition known as hydrocephalus. Signs or symptoms vary depending on a child’s age and the location of the tumor; however headaches are often the most common symptom.

But any general headache does not assure the presence of a tumor. Headache patterns that may occur with brain tumors include:

Depending on the location of tumor in different parts of the brain or spinal cord the symptoms vary. But these symptoms can be caused by any disease in that particular location – they don’t certify the presence of a brain or spinal cord tumor. Brain and spinal cord tumors often cause problems with the specific functions of the region they develop in. For example:

In most cases, brain tumor symptoms are subtle and gradually become worse as the size of the tumor increases. Because of the subtle nature of symptoms, they may appear like common childhood conditions, thus making brain tumors diagnosis difficult. It is highly recommended to see a doctor, if the child is facing any of the mentioned difficulty.

What Are The General Causes Of Brain Cancer?

The exact causes of most brain and spinal cord tumors are yet to be unveiled. However, researchers have discovered some of the changes that occur in normal brain cells which may lead to the formation of tumors. Though clear causes for Brain and Spinal Cord tumours are still debatable, certain risk factors have been recognized.
Some of the more well-known syndromes include:

Can Brain Cancer Be Prevented?

As of now, there are no known life style related or environment related factor except exposure to radiation that would cause brain and spinal cord tumors in children. Hence, there is no known way to protect against most of these Cancers.

What Are The Stages Of Brain Cancer?

Since, most tumors in the brain or spinal cord do not usually spread, they are not formally staged. Some of the most important factors that determine your child’s prognosis include:

Survival Rates Of Brain Cancer?

Survival rate is a generic view of the data collected over a period of time depicting the percentages of patient that survived the disease. But, since there are multiple unique factors with each case, it is important to better understand his or her condition and prognosis. The age of the child, his/her health conditions and the extent to which the tumor has affected the child’s ability to function are also important factors.

The survival rate for brain tumor varies depending on the type of tumor. Here is the data showing a 5 year survival rate estimate.

Type of Tumor

5-Year Survival Rate

Pilocytic astrocytomas

About 95%

Fibrillary (diffuse) astrocytomas

About 80% to 85%

Anaplastic astrocytomas

About 30%


About 20%


About 90% to 95%

Ependymoma/anaplastic ependymomas

About 75%


About 60% to 65%

Today, more children than ever are surviving childhood cancer. There are new and better drugs and treatments, and we can now also work to reduce the after-effects of having had cancer in the past. Medicine is evolving everyday to meet these challenges and to keep you happy, healthy and alive!

Can Brain Cancer Be Detected Early?

At this time there are no widely recommended screening tests for most children to look for brain or spinal cord tumors before they start to cause symptoms. These tumours are usually detected as a result of signs or symptoms the child is having. However, through genetic tests, one may find out whether one is at an increased risk of developing Brain Cancer. If yes, the doctor might suggest other tests to detect the Cancer early.

CT or MRI scan

Other than radiation, there are no known lifestyle-related or environmental causes of childhood brain tumors.

An MRI scan uses no X-rays, and gives more detailed pictures, but takes much longer. Machines are noisy, and often children cannot lie still long enough to get proper images. It is sometimes necessary to have an anaesthetic for this scan.

Blood tests

These are usually done to make sure it is safe to do an operation, and can also be used to help diagnose certain types of tumour.


It is the process of removing a small specimen of the affected cells and examining under a microscope to find out the details like the type of tumour. A biopsy report helps the doctors to plan for the most accurate treatment strategy.

What Are The Treatments Available?

Treatment depends on the size and type of tumor and the child’s general health. Because there are different types of brain tumours, treatment will not be the same for everyone. The goals of treatment may be to cure patients, relieve symptoms, and improve brain function or the child’s comfort.


 is the most preferred treatment option for most primary brain tumors. Some tumors may be completely removed. In cases where the tumor cannot be removed, surgery may help reduce pressure and relieve symptoms. Chemotherapy or radiation therapy may be used for certain tumors.


uses drugs to get rid of cancer cells. Chemotherapy is given into the veins, and sometimes as a liquid or tablets by mouth.


 is used to treat cancer by using high energy radiation beams. The radiation beams are simply the energy that passes inside the body, and causes damage to tumour cells. Radiotherapy is delivered extremely carefully, using machines linked to the MRI scans of your child’s brain. The process usually takes a few minutes each time, but often needs to continue for five or six weeks.

Other medicines your child may need to take
These are medicines that reduce swelling and inflammation in the brain and can help deal with the symptoms.
These are medicines used to help prevent fits, which can be a problem before or after operations on the brain.
Treatments for specific types of tumors:
Surgery to remove the tumor is the main treatment. Chemotherapy or radiation therapy may also be necessary.
Brainstem gliomas
In this case, surgery is usually not possible because of the tumour’s location deep in the brain. Radiation is used to shrink the tumor and prolong life.
Surgery is the most preferred treatment option. However, radiation and chemotherapy may also be necessary.
Surgery alone does not cure this type of tumor. Chemotherapy with or without radiation is often used in combination with surgery. Medicines used to treat primary brain tumors in children include:
Comfort measures, safety measures, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and other such steps may be required to improve quality of life.

What Are The Possible Side Effects Of Treatment?

Treatment of cancer is a tough process as the medicines or radiations used to cure or suppress cancer often causes multiple side effects. Some possible common side effects of radiotherapy and chemotherapy include:

Is There Curative Treatment For Brain Cancer?

Most cases of the brain cancers can be treated with surgery. But, for more complicated tumors other treatment options like radiation, chemotherapy etc. should be opted. Children with tumors may also have a much better prognosis than adults with a similar condition.


How Frequently Should One Visit Doctor For Early Diagnosis?

In case of experiencing any of the mentioned symptoms or having a history of cancer, an examination by a specialist is recommended once in a year.


How Can I As A Patient Know It Early?

Acknowledging the symptoms and visiting a doctor for examination helps in early diagnosis.