Social, Emotional, and Other Issues in Children with Brain or Spinal Cord Tumors

Children can develop social and emotional issues both during and after treatment. Factors such as the child’s age when diagnosed and the extent of treatment can play a role here.

Brain and spinal cord tumors and their treatment can sometimes affect how a child does some everyday tasks, including certain school, work, or recreational activities. These effects are often greatest during the first year of treatment, but they can be long-lasting in some children. It’s important that the treating center assess the family situation as soon as possible, so that any areas of concern can be addressed.

Some children and teens may have emotional or psychological issues that need to be addressed during and after treatment. Depending on their age, they may also have some problems with normal functioning and school work. These can often be helped with support and encouragement. Doctors and other members of the health care team can also often recommend special support programs and services to help after treatment.

Many experts recommend that school-age children and teens attend school as much as possible. This can help them maintain a sense of daily routine and keep their friends informed about what is going on.

Friends can be a great source of support, but patients and parents should know that some people have misunderstandings and fears about diseases such as brain tumors. Some treatment centers have a school re-entry program that can help in situations like this. In this program, a teacher (called a school liaison) working with the hospital can help pave the way for your child going (back) to school by talking with the teachers, explaining your child’s health issues, and discussing any special education techniques that might be needed. The liaison can also talk to the students about the diagnosis, treatment, and changes the child might go through, as well as answer questions from teachers and classmates. (For more information, see Children Diagnosed With Cancer: Returning to School.)

Centers that treat many children with brain and spinal cord tumors might have programs to introduce new patients to others who have already finished treatment. This can give patients and their families an idea of what to expect during and after treatment, which can be very important.

Parents and other family members can also be affected, both emotionally and in other ways. Some common family concerns during treatment include financial stresses, traveling to and staying near the treatment center, the possible loss of a job, and the need for home schooling. Social workers and other professionals at treatment centers can help families sort through these issues.

During treatment, children and their families tend to focus on the daily aspects of getting through it and beating the tumor. But once treatment is finished, a number of emotional concerns can arise. Some of these might last a long time. They can include things like:

  • Dealing with physical changes that can result from the treatment
  • Worrying about the tumor returning or new health problems developing
  • Feeling resentful for having had a tumor or having to go through treatment when others do not
  • Worrying about being treated differently or discriminated against (by friends, classmates, coworkers, employers, etc.)
  • Being concerned about dating, marrying, and having a family later in life

No one chooses to have a brain or spinal cord tumor, but for many children and teens, the experience can eventually be positive, helping to establish strong self-values. Other children may have a harder time recovering, adjusting to life after the tumor, and moving on. It is normal to have some anxiety or other emotional reactions after treatment, but feeling overly worried, depressed, or angry can affect many parts of a young person’s emotional growth. It can get in the way of relationships, school, work, and other aspects of life.

With support from family, friends, other survivors, mental health professionals, and others, many people who have survived their tumor can thrive in spite of the challenges they’ve had to face.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: August 12, 2014 Last Revised: January 21, 2016

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