Brain Tumors

What is a brain tumor?

Brain tumors are relatively rare in children, occurring in only five of every 100,000 children. Although childhood brain tumors can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous), both types can be life-threatening. Nevertheless, children with brain tumors generally have a better prognosis than adults with a similar condition.

About 2,200 children and adolescents in the United States are diagnosed with a brain tumor each year. Most children and adolescents who develop brain tumors survive into adulthood. However, many will face physical, psychological, social and intellectual challenges related to their treatment.

Brain tumors are commonly treated with surgery and/or other therapies including chemotherapy and radiation. However, as scientists continue to learn more about the specific genetic mutations that occur in childhood brain tumors, they are starting to develop targeted treatments (precision medicine) that can be used in brain tumor treatment.


Dr. Katherine Warren, clinical director of Pediatric Neuro-Oncology at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center.

Types of childhood brain tumors

If your child is diagnosed with a brain tumor, you will learn there are many different brain tumor types and classifications based upon the tumor’s cell structure, composition, rate of growth, location, and other characteristics. The name and classification of the tumor may change as your doctor gains new information about your child’s brain tumor or if the tumor changes over time.

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 and behave differently than brain tumors in adults. Learn more about the specific types of brain tumors.

Choroid plexus brain tumors

Choroid plexus tumors arise in the tissue located in the spaces of the brain called ventricles. This tissue makes cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which surrounds the brain and spinal cord. These rare tumors are seen more often in younger children. Between 10 and 20 percent of brain tumors that occur within the first year of life are choroid plexus tumors.

Germ cell tumors of the brain

Germ cell tumors of the brain,includinggerminoma develop from germ cells — the cells that later become sperm in the testicles or eggs in the ovaries; during the fetal period, these cells may get “trapped” in the brain.

Gliomas

There are four stages or grades of gliomas, according to how the cells look under a microscope. Ordered from least severe to most severe, they are:

Low-grade gliomas:

  • grade I (pilocytic)
  • grade II (fibrillary)

High-grade gliomas:

  • grade III (anaplastic)
  • grade IV (glioblastoma multiforme or GBM)

Gliomas also can be named according to the type of glial cells involved or the location of the tumor. Glioma diagnoses include:

  • angiocentric glioma
  • astrocytoma: pilocytic astrocytoma, fibrillary astrocytoma or anaplastic astrocytoma
  • diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) 
  • gliomatosis cerebri
  • gliosarcoma
  • dysembryoplastic neuroepithelial tumor (DNET or DNT)
  • ganglioglioma and glial neuronal tumors
  • oligodendroglioma
  • optic nerve (pathway) glioma
  • pleomorphic xanthoastrocytoma (PXA)
  • tectal glioma (a brainstem glioma)
  • thalamic and hypothalamic astrocytoma

Neural tumors

Other

  • craniopharyngioma
  • ependymoma and myxopapillary ependymoma
  • meningioma
  • neurofibroma/plexiform neurofibroma
  • schwannoma (neurilemoma)
  • spinal tumors 

How we care for brain tumors

Children with brain tumors are treated through the Brain Tumor Center at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, a world-renowned destination for children with malignant and non-malignant brain and spinal cord tumors. Our brain tumor specialists have extensive expertise in treating all types of brain tumors.