Ependymoma Symptoms & Causes

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What is an ependymoma?

An ependymoma is a tumor that comes from the cells lining the ventricular system of the brain or spinal cord, which contains cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). If your child has been diagnosed with an ependymoma, there are a number of things that you should know:

Ependymomas account for 5 to 10 percent of pediatric brain tumors and occur equally in boys and girls.

  • The average age at diagnosis happens when a child is 5 years old, and 25 to 40 percent of patients are younger than 2.
  • In children it usually occurs in the brain, most commonly in a space called the fourth ventricle.
  • In rare cases, ependymoma may be found in the spinal cord.
  • Though ependymoma rarely occurs in the spinal cord, it does account for about 25 percent of all spinal cord tumors. Most patients with tumors of the spinal cord are older than 12.

As you read further, you will find general information about ependymomas. If you would like to view summary information about brain tumors first, see the overview on brain tumors.

What are the symptoms of an ependymoma?

Your child may experience different symptoms depending on they size and location of tumor. This kind of brain tumor can block the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid, the colorless fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. This can cause increased pressure on the brain and enlargement of the skull (hydrocephalus) as well as a variety of symptoms.

Common symptoms of ependymoma may include:

  • headaches (especially upon awakening)
  • nausea and vomiting (especially upon awakening)
  • lethargy and irritability
  • problems eating or walking
  • in infants, enlarged head size or fontanelles (the soft “spot” that occurs before the bones in the head fuse)

The symptoms of a brain tumor may resemble other, more common conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

What are the different kinds of ependymoma?

Your child’s physician will perform tests to determine what type of ependymoma your child has. Ependymomas can appear differently when evaluated under the microscope, and they can be further classified as standard or anaplastic ependymoma. These two types are treated the same way and have similar prognoses.

A third type, which occurs at the base of the spine, called myxopapillary ependymoma, tends to be much less serious than the standard and anaplastic forms.

Do ependymomas spread to other areas of the body?

Yes, ependymomas can metastasize, meaning they can spread into nerby areas of the brain or, less commonly, to distant parts of the central nervous system.

  • In about 12 percent of patients, the disease has spread at the time of diagnosis.
  • In these situations, more extensive treatment is necessary to cure the disease.
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