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Brain Cancer 

Cancer can develop within the brain or spinal cord itself (primary tumor) or can travel to the brain or spinal cord from a cancer elsewhere in the body (metastatic or secondary tumors).

There are many different types of primary brain or spinal cord tumors. They may be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). While most cancers are described by stage, brain and spinal cord tumors are described by a grading system established by the World Health Organization. This system classifies tumors from Grade I to Grade IV. Grade I tumors occur almost exclusively in children and are considered benign. Grades II through IV describe tumors with increasingly malignant behavior. 



An astrocytoma is a type of brain tumor that develops in astrocytes. These are the star-shaped cells in the brain that hold nerve cells in place. An astrocytoma can be harmless (benign) or cancerous (malignant). Astrocytomas are most common in middle-aged men, but they can occur in children, too.

Astrocytomas in children

Locations of different tumors in the brain
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In young people, astrocytomas are usually found at the base of the brain, and they are usually low grade, which means they are slow growing. When diagnosed, a low-grade astrocytoma may not require immediate treatment. But it should be watched carefully, because it could turn into an aggressive, faster-growing tumor. Often, a biopsy or surgery is needed to confirm the pathology and staging.


An astrocytoma can cause physical symptoms if it begins to grow in or press on an area of the brain. These are common symptoms of an astrocytoma:

  • Morning headache or a headache that goes away after vomiting

  • Vision, hearing, or speech problems

  • Loss of balance or trouble walking

  • Seizures

  • Unusual changes in energy level or excessive sleepiness

  • Slow speech or worsening of handwriting skills


Doctors can use a variety of tests to determine the presence of an astrocytoma. CT scans and MRIs can provide an image of the brain and allow doctors to check for abnormalities. Sometimes a procedure called magnetic resonance spectroscopy will be done along with an MRI to determine the chemical makeup of the tumor.


If your child's health care provider suspects an astrocytoma, he or she may recommend a brain tissue biopsy to determine whether the tumor is cancerous. This is done as a surgical procedure.

If cancer cells are found, the surgeon may remove the tumor during the same surgery. The goal is usually to take out as much of the tumor as possible without damaging the brain. If some of the astrocytoma must remain in the brain, radiation therapy may be used to control its size. This can be done in the form of external beam radiation, which is given on the outside of the body, or through radiosurgery, which focuses the radiation directly on the tumor site. 

Another option to treat an astrocytoma is chemotherapy–giving special medications that kill tumor cells. Chemotherapy is often a better treatment for an astrocytoma than radiation therapy because it minimizes the risk for damage to a child's developing brain.


The outlook for people with an astrocytoma depends on the aggressiveness of the tumor, its location, and whether it has spread. The age of the child may also play a role. Overall, more than 70% of children with central nervous-system tumors will survive for 5 years or longer after diagnosis. 


Astrocytomas start in the brain rather than spreading from another part of the body.

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A craniopharyngioma is a usually benign but possibly aggressive tumor that is found near the pituitary gland, a structure connected to the brain that regulates the production of many hormones in the body. This tumor is most commonly found in boys and girls 5 to 14 years old, though it can occur in adults, too.

Locations of different tumors in the brain
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The basics

Craniopharyngiomas are usually a mixture of both solid mass and fluid-filled cysts. They are not cancerous tumors, and they do not spread to other parts of the body. As they grow, however, they may press on parts of the brain and surrounding structures, affecting hormones, vision, and other normal functions. For this reason, they require treatment.


These are common symptoms of craniopharyngiomas:

  • Headache, including one that goes away after vomiting

  • Vision changes

  • Loss of balance or trouble walking

  • Unusual changes in energy level

  • Slow growth or delayed puberty

  • Hearing loss

  • Increase in thirst

  • Increase in head size (in infants)


Tests that may lead a doctor to suspect a craniopharyngioma generally include physical exams, neurological exams, and vision tests. CT and MRI scans are the primary tests used to confirm the diagnosis. Doctors may also check the blood for levels of specific hormones such as thyroid-stimulating hormone and ACTH, which are secreted by the pituitary gland. Techniques like CT scans and MRIs may also be used to take pictures of the brain and detect tumors.


Once diagnosed, craniopharyngiomas are usually removed through surgery. The surgeon will decide if the tumor can be removed in its entirety, which can't always be determined before surgery. Sometimes, doctors are not sure whether a tumor is a craniopharyngioma until the surgery begins.

Sometimes not all of the tumor can be removed through surgery because of the risk of damaging other structures, like the optic nerve, hypothalamus, and carotid artery. When the entire craniopharyngioma can't be surgically removed, doctors will usually try to remove as much of it as possible to relieve pressure on other body parts, and then use radiation therapy to get rid of what remains. Radiation therapy is generally given by external beam therapy. Experimental chemotherapy trials can be considered if the tumor recurs after radiation.


The outlook for craniopharyngioma patients is good. Up to 90% of all patients have a chance of a permanent cure if the tumor can be completely removed with surgery. However, there is a chance that the tumor will recur, especially if it is not all removed. Most recurrences happen within two years of surgery.

Other health effects may remain after treatment ends. Some common side effects of craniopharyngiomas include vision loss, obesity, behavioral problems, and the need for lifelong hormone replacement.  One common side effect is loss of posterior pituitary gland function. This causes uncontrolled urination. It can be partially treated with hormonal therapy.


Craniopharyngioma is a slow-growing tumor that develops at the base of the skull.

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What is a meningioma?

A meningioma is a type of tumor that grows in the meninges, which are layers of tissue that cover the brain and spinal cord. Technically, a meningioma is not a brain tumor because it does not arise from brain tissue. However, it may be referred to as a brain tumor.

These tumors are usually non-cancerous (benign). This means that unlike cancerous tumors, they don't tend to spread to distant parts of the body. Because of their location, though, meningiomas can still cause neurological problems. As these tumors grow, they can compress the brain and spinal cord, leading to serious symptoms.

Meningiomas are the most common type of brain tumors in adults and occur more often than cancerous brain tumors. They're more common in women and usually develop in the 40s or 50s. Children rarely get meningiomas.

What causes meningiomas?

The underlying cause of meningiomas is not clear. Hormonal fluctuations may encourage the growth of these tumors, but more research is needed to confirm this.

Researchers have found a chromosome abnormality in a significant percentage of meningiomas. This suggests that the tumors may be caused by genetic-related factors. The specific chromosome involved functions to suppress tumor growth.

Who is at risk for meningiomas?

Women are much more likely to get meningiomas than men, which has led doctors to suspect that certain hormones might play a role in the development of these tumors. Other people at higher risk include those who have received radiation treatment to the head and people with neurofibromatosis (an inherited nervous system disorder).

What are the symptoms of meningiomas?

These tumors usually grow slowly. You may not have any symptoms until the tumor has become large. The tumor can cause different symptoms, depending on where it's growing. These are possible symptoms:

  • Vision or hearing loss
  • Seizures
  • Trouble thinking clearly
  • Trouble walking
  • Loss of smell
  • Weakness in an arm or leg
  • Headache
  • Nausea

How are meningiomas diagnosed?

Meningiomas often come to light because of symptoms a person is having. To diagnose meningiomas, the following tests may be done:

  • Neurological exam. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and may do a neurological exam to look for changes in motor and sensory function, vision, coordination, balance, mental status, and in mood or behavior.
  • Imaging. Doctors often diagnose a meningioma using an MRI or CT scan to get a picture of the brain and nearby structures.
  • Biopsy. In addition, the doctor may want to remove a sample of the tumor to examine it under a microscope before making the diagnosis.

How are meningiomas treated?

Not all meningiomas need to be treated right away.


If your meningioma is causing symptoms or is growing, your doctor will likely want to remove it with surgery. In some cases, though, trying to remove the tumor may be too risky. For example, the tumor may be too close to a vital brain structure or blood vessel.

If you do have surgery, the surgeon will try to take out as much of the tumor as possible. The surgeon may use MRI images of your brain to help guide the surgery. The surgeon may also use a special microscope during the surgery to get a better view of the tumor and the surrounding parts of your brain.

Radiation therapy

If the surgeon can't remove the tumor — or can only remove part of it — you may need radiation therapy. Depending on the areas of the brain and/or spinal cord that are involved, radiation therapy may help shrink any remaining tumor and can also help prevent it from spreading to the tissues around it. Even if the tumor is completely removed during surgery, some doctors may still recommend radiation therapy to help prevent another meningioma from developing in the future. Meningiomas have a tendency to grow back after surgery.


Your doctor may also recommend medications to treat the tumor. Experts are studying several drugs to see if they work against meningiomas. You may need to take part in a study in order to use these drugs.

You may also be able to use other drugs to treat symptoms caused by the meningioma, such as seizures, excessive vomiting, weakness, and vision disturbances.

Living with a meningioma

In many people, meningiomas don’t cause any symptoms and grow quite slowly. For this reason, doctors might recommend “watchful waiting.” This means you will report any new symptoms to your doctor, and your doctor will order scans on a regular basis to track even minor changes in the tumor. This may be a reasonable option for managing small tumors that aren't causing symptoms, especially in older adults who may not be able to undergo surgery or radiation therapy because of other medical conditions.

Key points

  • A meningioma is a type of tumor grows in the meninges, which are layers of tissue that cover the brain and spinal cord. These tumors are usually not cancerous (benign), but they can still grow and press on the brain, which can lead to serious symptoms.
  • Symptoms depend on where the tumor is and can include headache, nausea, vision or hearing loss, seizures, trouble thinking, loss of coordination, or weakness in an arm or leg.
  • Not all meningiomas need to be treated right away. If treatment is needed, surgery is usually the first option if it can be done. Radiation therapy can also be used, either alone or along with surgery.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
  • At the visit, write down the names of new medicines, treatments, or tests, and any new instructions your provider gives you.
  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.


Meningioma is a tumor that develops in the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord (meninges).

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Oligodendroglioma in Children

Oligodendroglioma in Children

What is an oligodendroglioma?

The brain is part of the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS also includes the spinal cord. A tumor is an abnormal growth of tissue. An oligodendroglioma is a type of CNS tumor called a glioma. These are tumors of the glial cells, the supporting cells of the brain. There are several types of glioma, depending on the type of cells involved and the location in the brain. Oligodendroglioma is a rare tumor that starts in the oligodendrocytes. These are the cells that help to form the fatty covering (myelin) of nerve cells. Oligodendrogliomas:

  • Are more common in adults than in children
  • May start out growing slowly (low-grade), but change and grow quickly (high-grade)
  • Often grow into the brain tissue, making surgery difficult
  • May be mixed with other types of cells that also support the brain

What causes an oligodendroglioma?

Researchers don't fully know what causes brain tumors. CNS tumors are usually from changes (mutations) in the genes (DNA) inside cells. This may be passed on from parents to children (inherited) or it may happen without a known reason.

What are the symptoms of an oligodendroglioma?

Symptoms of brain tumors depend on their size and where they are in the brain. For example, if a tumor develops in the region that controls speech, your child's speech may be affected.

 Symptoms of an oligodendroglioma may include:

  • Seizures
  • Headaches
  • Trouble with thinking, memory, or concentration
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Problems with vision or speech
  • Weakness or numbness, often just on one side of the body

The symptoms of oligodendroglioma can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees a healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is an oligodendroglioma diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will ask about your child's health history and symptoms. He or she will examine your child. This will include a neurological exam. The exam tests reflexes, muscle strength, eye and mouth movement, and coordination. Your child's healthcare provider may refer your child to a cancer specialist (oncologist). Your child may have tests such as:

  • CT scan. A CT scan uses a series of X-rays and a computer to make detailed pictures of the body.
  • MRI. An MRI uses large magnets, radio waves, and a computer to make detailed pictures of the body. Contrast dye may be injected into your child's vein. It helps cancer cells be seen more clearly.
  • Biopsy. Tumor cells are removed and sent to a lab for testing. This is done to find out the type of tumor and how quickly it is likely to grow. This may be done with surgery.
  • Blood tests. Blood tests may be done to check for substances that are released by some tumors. These are called tumor markers.

Part of diagnosing cancer and deciding on treatment is called grading. Grading describes how much cancer cells are different from normal cells. Most tumors are graded on a scale from I to IV. Grade I means that the cancer cells have only just started to grow. They look a lot like normal cells and are likely to grow slowly. They are called low-grade. Grade IV means that it is advanced in its growth and is likely to grow quickly. They are called high-grade. Grade 4 tumors are also called anaplastic oligodendrogliomas. Grades 2 and 3 are in between. They are called intermediate-grade.

How is an oligodendroglioma treated?

If your child has been diagnosed with a brain tumor and time allows, you may want your child to see a different oncologist (get a second opinion) before beginning treatment. In fact, your insurance company might require a second opinion. 

Treatment may include one or more of the below:

  • Surgery. This is done to remove part or all of the tumor. More surgery may be needed over time, if the tumor grows back. Surgery may be followed by chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.
  • Chemotherapy. These are medicines that kill cancer cells. One or more medicines may be given. Oligodendroglioma tumors respond better to chemotherapy. 
  • Radiation therapy. These are high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation. They are used to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing. 

Other parts of treatment may include:

  • Steroids. These are medicines help prevent or reduce the swelling in the brain.
  • Anticonvulsant medicines. These help to prevent or control any seizures.
  • Shunt placement. A shunt is a small tube. It’s put into the skull to drain any fluid that has built up in or around the brain.

With any cancer, how well a child is expected to recover (prognosis) varies. Keep in mind:                                             

  • Getting medical treatment right away is important for the best prognosis. 
  • Ongoing follow-up care during and after treatment is needed.
  • New treatments are being tested to improve outcome and to lessen side effects.

What are possible complications of an oligodendroglioma?

A child may have complications from the tumor or from treatment, such as:

  • Damage to the brain or nervous system that causes problems with coordination, muscle strength, speech, or eyesight
  • Problems after surgery, such as infection, bleeding, and problems with general anesthesia
  • Infection and bleeding from chemotherapy
  • Delayed growth and development
  • Learning problems
  • Problems with reproduction (infertility)
  • Return of the cancer
  • Growth of other cancers

How is an oligodendroglioma managed?

A child with a brain tumor needs ongoing care. Your child will be seen by oncologists and other healthcare providers to treat any late effects of treatment and to watch for signs or symptoms of the tumor returning. Your child will be checked with imaging tests and other tests. And your child may see other healthcare providers for problems from the tumor or from treatment. For example, your child may see an eye doctor (ophthalmologist) for vision problems.

Your child may need therapy to help with movement and muscle strength. This may be done by physical and occupational therapists. If your child's speech is affected, he or she may need help from a speech therapist. Your child may also need the help of other therapists for learning or emotional problems. 

You can help your child manage his or her treatment in many ways. For example:

  • Your child may have trouble eating. A dietitian may be able to help.
  • Your child may be very tired. He or she will need to balance rest and activity. Encourage your child to get some exercise. This is good for overall health. And it may help to lessen tiredness.
  • If your child smokes, help him or her quit. If your child doesn’t smoke, make sure he or she knows the danger of smoking.
  • Get emotional support for your child. Find a counselor or child support group can help.
  • Make sure your child attends all follow-up appointments.

When should I call my child’s healthcare provider?

Call the healthcare provider if your child has:

  • Symptoms that get worse
  • New symptoms
  • Side effects from treatment

Key points about an oligodendroglioma

  • Oligodendroglioma is a type of brain tumor. It’s a rare tumor that grows in the cells that make up the fatty covering of nerve cells. 
  • They are rare in children.
  • Symptoms may include seizures, headaches, trouble with thinking, memory, or concentration, and nausea and vomiting.
  • They may be diagnosed with MRI and CT tests.
  • Treatment is usually done with surgery. It’s then followed by chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or both. 
  • Ongoing care is important.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • At the visit, write down the names of new medicines, treatments, or tests, and any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
  • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.


Oligodendrogliomas develop in the brain and can be low grade (Grade II) or anaplastic (Grade III).

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Metastatic Brain Tumors

Metastatic Brain Tumors

Sometimes tumors growing in the brain begin there. These are called primary brain tumors. But other types of brain tumors begin as cancers somewhere else in the body. These can start in the lung, breast, skin, kidney, colon, or other body parts. They may spread to the brain if the cancers are not controlled at the original site. These are called secondary or metastatic brain tumors.

In adults, metastatic brain tumors are more common than tumors that begin in the brain, and are treated differently from those that start in the brain.

Facts about metastatic brain tumors

Cancer may spread to the brain through your lymph system or your bloodstream. Or it may travel to the brain from a nearby tissue. Metastatic brain tumors are becoming more common because people are living longer after having cancer somewhere else in their body.

In most cases, the metastatic brain tumor is found in the cerebrum. This is the outer part of the brain that controls your thoughts, emotions, and language ability. It also is involved in movement and sensing the outside world. But these tumors can appear elsewhere in the brain, too.

Metastatic brain tumors happen most commonly in lung cancer, but can occur in many other types.


Symptoms of this condition can vary, depending on the size and number of tumors in the brain and where they occur. These are possible symptoms:

  • Trouble walking

  • Mood changes

  • Unusual behaviors

  • Headaches

  • Changes in personality

  • Memory loss

  • Loss of feeling or movement on one side of the body, typically in the arm or leg

  • Trouble speaking

  • Seizures

  • Trouble seeing

  • Vomiting


Sometimes, your doctor will know if you already have a cancer somewhere else in your body. But in some cases, the doctor finds the metastatic brain tumor first. Doctors may diagnose this condition using:

  • MRI, CT, or PET scan. These are different ways of painlessly creating an image of your brain for the doctor to see. A PET scan is commonly performed to determine whether there are any other areas on the body with cancer. 

  • Cerebral angiography. During this test, dye will be injected through a tube put into a blood vessel. Then the doctor will take X-rays of your brain. The dye shows the path of the blood flow in your brain, which may help show if a tumor is in your brain. This test is not used much anymore and has largely been replaced with MRI and CT angiography.

  • Spinal tap. Also called a lumbar puncture, this test looks for cancer cells in the fluid found around your brain and spinal cord.

  • Other tests. Your doctor may do scans of other parts of your body to look for the camcer that led to brain tumor. A doctor may also remove part of the tumor in your brain or the rest of your body to examine it.


A surgeon may be able to remove the tumor during brain surgery. In some cases, the surgeon may only be able to remove part of it. When more than one metastatic brain tumor occurs in the brain, surgical treatment may not always be an option. Other types of surgery may help relieve pressure on the brain and treat symptoms if the tumor can't be removed.

Doctors may be able to treat the brain tumor with radiation. Radiation therapy may involve radiation of the whole brain or more focused radiation treatment (such as with the gamma knife). Chemotherapy may also be an option. In addition, the doctor may provide medicines that relieve swelling in the brain, reduce the number of seizures, and relieve pain.


You can take a number of steps to reduce your risk for cancers that can spread to your brain:

  • Eat a healthy diet.

  • Get regular exercise.

  • Maintain a healthy weight.

  • Avoid smoking.

  • Limit your sun exposure.

  • Have regular screening exams for certain cancers, such as mammograms for breast cancer.

Managing brain tumors

Sometimes, doctors won’t be able to cure this disease. In some cases, they will suggest methods to keep a person comfortable during his or her remaining time. These may include specific treatments and medicine to reduce pain and other symptoms.

Metastatic Brain Tumor

Metastatic brain tumors are considered secondary brain tumors, and spread to the brain from another part of the body.

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