Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors in Children

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Treating Brain/CNS Tumors In Children TOPICS

How are brain and spinal cord tumors in children treated?

This information represents the views of the doctors and nurses serving on the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Information Database Editorial Board. These views are based on their interpretation of studies published in medical journals, as well as their own professional experience.
The treatment information in this document is not official policy of the Society and is not intended as medical advice to replace the expertise and judgment of your cancer care team. It is intended to help you and your family make informed decisions, together with your doctor.
Your doctor may have reasons for suggesting a treatment plan different from these general treatment options. Don’t hesitate to ask him or her questions about your treatment options.

General comments about treatment

Children and teens with brain and spinal cord tumors and their families have special needs that can be met best by cancer centers for children and teens, working closely with the child’s primary care doctor. These centers offer the advantage of being treated by teams of specialists who know the differences between cancers in adults and those in children and teens, as well as the unique needs of younger people with cancer.

For childhood brain and spinal cord tumors, this team is often led by a pediatric neurosurgeon, a doctor who uses surgery to treat brain and nervous system tumors in children. Other doctors on the team may include:

  • Pediatric neurologist: a doctor who treats brain and nervous system diseases in children
  • Radiation oncologist: a doctor who uses radiation to treat cancer
  • Pediatric oncologist: a doctor who uses chemotherapy and other medicines to treat children’s cancers
  • Endocrinologist: a doctor who treats diseases in glands that secrete hormones

Many other specialists may be involved in your child’s care as well, including physician assistants (PAs), nurse practitioners (NPs), nurses, psychologists, social workers, rehabilitation specialists, and other health professionals.

Going through cancer treatment with a child often means meeting lots of specialists and learning about parts of the medical system you probably haven’t had contact with before. You can find out more about this in our document Children Diagnosed With Cancer: Understanding the Health Care System.

Before treatment, the doctors and other members of the team will help you, as a parent, understand the tests that will need to be done. The team’s social worker will also counsel you about the problems you and your child might have during and after treatments such as surgery, and might be able to help you find housing and financial aid if needed.

Other team members, such as a psychologist and specialists in rehabilitation, may also see your child before treatment begins. For example, if the tumor is slow growing and your child’s condition is stable, he or she may be seen by a psychologist before treatment to assess any damage the tumor may have caused. Most of the work of these specialists takes place after treatment.

The main treatments for children with brain and spinal cord tumors are:

In many cases children will get some combination of these treatments. Treatment is based on the type of tumor and other factors. Doctors plan each child’s treatment individually to give them the best chance of a cure while limiting side effects as much as possible.

It’s important to discuss your child’s treatment options as well as their possible side effects with the treatment team to help make the decision that’s the best fit for your child. If there is anything you don’t understand, ask to have it explained. (See the section “What should you ask your doctor about your child’s brain or spinal cord tumor?” for some questions to ask.)

If time allows, getting a second opinion from another doctor experienced with your child’s type of tumor is often a good idea. It can give you more information and help you feel more confident about the treatment plan you choose.

The next few sections describe the various types of treatments used for brain and spinal cord tumors in children. This is followed by a description of the most common treatment approaches based on the type of tumor.

Last Medical Review: 08/12/2014
Last Revised: 08/24/2014