Signs and symptoms from brain and spinal cord tumors might occur gradually and become worse over time, or they can happen suddenly, such as with a seizure.
Tumors in any part of the brain might raise the pressure inside the skull (known as intracranial pressure). This can be caused by growth of the tumor, swelling in the brain, or blocked flow of cerebrospinal fluid. Increased pressure can lead to general symptoms such as:
Headaches that get worse over time are a common symptom of brain tumors. But not all brain tumors cause headaches, and most headaches are not caused by tumors.
In some children, seizures are the first symptom of a brain tumor. Most seizures in children are not caused by brain tumors, but if your child has a seizure, your child’s doctor may refer you to a neurologist (a doctor who specializes in brain and nervous system problems) to make sure it wasn’t caused by a brain tumor or other serious disease.
In the first few years of life, other symptoms of tumors can include:
In the school-aged child, other general symptoms of tumors can include poor school performance, fatigue, and personality changes.
If the child can cooperate, the doctor can sometimes tell if pressure inside the skull is increased by looking inside the child’s eyes for swelling of the optic nerve (known as papilledema).
Tumors in different parts of the brain or spinal cord can cause different symptoms. But these symptoms can be caused by any abnormality in that particular location – they don’t always mean a child has a brain or spinal cord tumor.
Having one or more of the symptoms above does not necessarily mean that your child has a brain or spinal cord tumor. All of these symptoms can have other causes. Still, if your child has any of these symptoms, especially if they don’t go away or get worse over time, see your child’s doctor so that the cause can be found and treated, if needed.
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Lau C, Teo WY. Clinical manifestations and diagnosis of central nervous system tumors in children. UpToDate. 2018. Accessed at www.uptodate.com/contents/clinical-manifestations-and-diagnosis-of-central-nervous-system-tumors-in-children on April 24, 2018.
Williams D, Parsons IF, Pollack DA. Chapter 26A: Gliomas, Ependymomas, and Other Nonembryonal Tumors of the Central Nervous System. In: Pizzo PA, Poplack DG, eds. Principles and Practice of Pediatric Oncology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2016.
Last Revised: June 20, 2018