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Brain Tumors in Children

Brain tumors in children are treated in our Dubowy Brain Tumor Center 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 can invade nearby tissues. This can cause tissues to stop working or even have lasting harm. It is not clear what causes this. It may be a mix of genes and the environment.

Risk Factors

A child’s chances are higher if they have certain genes. Some health issues that may run in a family can also make the chances higher.


Symptoms depend on the tumor's size and where it is. A growing tumor will often have swelling build up around it. This can put pressure on the brain.

Brain tumor symptoms can be grouped by:

Symptoms that are due to the higher pressure include:

  • Headaches—these get worse when lying down, a child has it when waking up, or the pain wakes a child up
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Double vision

Symptoms that are due to the tumor causing problems in different parts of the brain are:


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

There are many types of tumors. A biopsy will help find the type. Knowing this helps guide treatment.


The goal of treatment is to get rid of the tumor. How that is done depends on the tumor type and where it is in the brain. Care may involve using different methods. Some methods may leave a child with lasting problems.


Medicines help control problems such as:

  • Brain swelling
  • Seizures


Options include:

  • Craniotomy—some or all of the tumor is removed during surgery
  • 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.


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

Rehabilitation Therapy

This will help children 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

An educational specialist may also work with a school-age child. They can help with learning problems and getting a child back into school.


There is no way to prevent a brain tumor.


  • Brain tumors. American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Available at: https://www.aans.org/en/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Brain-Tumors.
  • Brain tumors. Boston Children's Hospital website. Available at: https://www.childrenshospital.org/conditions/brain-tumors.
  • Brain tumors. Children’s Wisconsin website. Available at: https://www.childrenswi.org/medical-care/macc-fund-center/conditions/oncology/brain-tumors.
  • Childhood brain and spinal cord tumors treatment overview (PDQ®)-patient version. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/brain/patient/child-brain-treatment-pdq.
  • Medulloblastoma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/medulloblastoma.
  • Types of brain tumors. UChicago Medicine Comer Children’s website. Available at: https://www.uchicagokidshospital.org/comer/conditions-services/pediatric-cancer/pediatric-brain-tumors/types-of-brain-tumors.

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.