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The brain is the organ that controls a lot of what we do—voluntarily (like thinking) or involuntarily (like breathing). The brain controls thought, memory, emotion, touch, motor skills, vision, respiration, temperature, hunger and processes that regulate the body.
The brain can be divided into three main parts:
The cerebrum is composed of the right and left hemispheres, and its functions include:
The brainstem, which includes the midbrain, the pons and the medulla, is responsible for:
The cerebellum is located at the back of the head, and its functions are to:
Other parts of the brain and central nervous system include the following:
Each child may experience symptoms of a brain tumor differently, and symptoms vary depending on size and location of the tumor—both in the brain and elsewhere in the central nervous system.
There is no space in the skull for anything except for the brain and its fluid. This means that any tumor, extra tissue or extra fluid can cause pressure on the brain.
Symptoms related to pressure on the brain can include:
Symptoms of brain tumors in the cerebellum may include:
Brain tumors in the lower part of the brain often press on the cerebellum, which may cause symptoms including:
Brain tumors in the brainstem may compress nerves and cause symptoms including:
Symptoms of brain tumors in the cerebrum may include:
Symptoms of brain tumors in the optic pathway (eyes) may include:
Symptoms of tumors in the spine (usually spreading from a tumor at a higher point on the spinal cord) may include:
It’s important to remember that the symptoms of a brain tumor may resemble other, more common conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.
Although we do not know for certain why brain tumors develop in certain children, we know that a small number of brain tumors may be related to genetics. In these cases, a child may have a brain tumor, because he has inherited certain genes from his parents, or because his genes have mutated on their own.
Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center uses the World Health Organization (WHO) classification system for most pediatric brain tumors. This system incorporates:
Brain tumors have traditionally been given names (classified) according to how they looked under a microscope. As researchers have come to understand more about the cellular and molecular differences between groups of tumors, some tumor names have changed.
Tumors also can be classified as benign or malignant:
Many pediatric brain tumors have a second important component to them after their name, which is the grade. This is an estimate of how aggressive or malignant a particular type of tumor is.
For example, glial tumors come in four grades. Grade I is the lowest, meaning that these tumors tend to be less aggressive than their grade IV counterparts, which are usually highly malignant and very difficult to treat.
The grade is based on a number of factors, such as how many cells are dividing at any one time or how different the cells look from their normal counterparts.
To learn more about different types of brain tumors, visit our Pediatric Brain Tumors page on the Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s website
We are grateful to have been ranked #1 on U.S. News & World Report's list of the best children's hospitals in the nation for the third year in a row, an honor we could not have achieved without the patients and families who inspire us to do our very best for them. Thanks to you, Boston Children's is a place where we can write the greatest children's stories ever told.”