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Brain Cancer

Brain tumors in children are treated in our Neuro Oncology Program within the Upstate Cancer Center.

For more information or answers to your questions about our Cancer Care, please call 315 464-HOPE (4673) to speak with an Upstate Cancer Center representative.


Brain tumors are abnormal growths in the brain.

There are two main types:

  • Primary—A tumor starts in the brain.
  • Secondary—Cancer spreads to the brain from another site in the body.
Brain Tumor
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Cancer is when cells in the body split without control or order. They go on to form a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to harmful growths. These growths attack nearby tissues. They also spread to the brain or spinal cord. It's not clear what causes this. It’s likely a mix of genes and the environment.

Risk Factors

Your child’s chances are higher if they have certain genes. Certain syndromes that run in your family can also make the chances higher.


Symptoms depend on the tumor's size and where it is. A growing tumor will often have fluid buildup around it. Fluid puts pressure on the brain. Pressure may cause:

  • Headaches—grow worse over weeks or months
  • Seizures
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting—mainly in the morning
  • Weak arms or legs
  • Loss of feeling in arms or legs
  • Personality changes
  • Drowsiness
  • Problems with:
    • Walking
    • Hearing
    • Vision
    • Speech
    • Memory


The doctor will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. Your answers and a physical exam may point to a brain tumor. They may also have:

There are many types of tumors. Test results and a biopsy will help find the type. Knowing this helps guide treatment.


Care depends on the type and location of the tumor. Care may involve using different methods. Some methods may leave your child with lasting problems.


Medicines help control problems such as:

  • Brain swelling
  • Seizures


Options include:

  • Craniotomy —some or all of the tumor is removed through a small hole in the skull
  • Shunt—a long thin tube is placed in the brain to drain fluid to another part of the body

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells or shrink tumors. This is a common treatment for brain tumors. At times, it may be used with chemotherapy. Radiation therapy may be:

  • External —Radiation is directed at the tumor from a source outside the body. Tumors that spread from another area of the body are treated with whole brain radiation therapy (WBRT).
  • Internal—Radioactive materials are placed into the body near the cancer cells.
  • Stereotactic radiosurgery —Higher doses of radiation can be delivered to specific areas of the brain.


Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. It may given by mouth, shots, or IV. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body.

Some drugs can be placed into the spinal cord.

Rehabilitation Therapy

This will help your child get better faster. The length of time needed depends on the amount of damage. Therapy will help with:

  • Walking, balance, and building strength
  • Daily skills such as dressing, eating, and using the toilet
  • Speaking or swallowing problems

Your child may also work with an educational specialist. They can help with learning problems and getting your child back into school.


There is no way to prevent a brain tumor since the cause is unknown.


Library resources related to brain tumors and brain cancer in children.

For more information:

Internet Links
The detailed guide includes descriptions of the causes, risk factors, prevention, diagnosis, staging, and treatments.
Plain language health information from Kidshealth.org on brain tumors in children.
Health information on childhood brain and spinal cord tumors from the National Cancer Institute. Includes information on staging of the tumors, and treatment options.
Questions and answers regarding medical care for children with cancer.
Link to a search of the MedlinePlus database for health information on brain tumors in children. MedlinePlus links are managed by medical librarians at the National Library of Medicine.
Information on brain tumors in children from the American Brain Tumor Association. Includes general information about brain tumors, and links to specific tumor types.
Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Pub., c2008. xxxv, 988 p. :
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