Survival Rates for Selected Childhood Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors

Survival rates are a way to get a general idea of the outlook (prognosis) for people with a certain type of tumor. They tell you what portion of people with the same type of tumor are still alive a certain amount of time (usually 5 years) after they were diagnosed. They can’t tell you what will happen, but they may help give you a better understanding about how likely it is that treatment will be successful. Some people will want to know about survival rates, and some people won’t. If you don’t want to know, you don’t have to.

What is a 5-year survival rate?

The 5-year survival rate is the percentage of children who live at least 5 years after their cancer is diagnosed. For example, a 5-year survival rate of 80% means that an estimated 80 out of 100 children who have that type of tumor are still alive 5 years after being diagnosed. Of course, many children live much longer than 5 years (and many are cured).

Survival rates don’t tell the whole story

Survival rates are often based on previous outcomes of large numbers of people who had the disease, but they can’t predict what will happen in any child’s case. There are some limitations to keep in mind:

  • The numbers below are among the most current available. But to get 5-year survival rates, doctors have to look at children who were treated at least 5 years ago. As treatments improve over time, children who are now being diagnosed with brain or spinal cord tumors may have a better outlook than these statistics show.
  • The outlook for children with brain or spinal cord tumors varies by the type of tumor. But many other factors can also affect a child’s outlook, such as their age, the location and size of the tumor, and how well the tumor responds to treatment. The outlook for each child is specific to their circumstances.

Your child’s doctor can tell you how the survival rates below may apply, as he or she is familiar with your child’s situation.

Survival rates for more common brain and spinal cord tumors in children

The numbers below come from the Central Brain Tumor Registry of the United States (CBTRUS) and are based on children aged 14 or younger who were treated between 2000 and 2014. There are some important points to note about these numbers:

  • These numbers are for some of the more common types of tumors. Numbers are not readily available for all types of tumors that occur in children, often because they are rare or are hard to classify.
  • In some cases, the numbers include a wide range of different types of tumors that can have different outlooks. For example, the survival rate for embryonal tumors below includes medulloblastomas, as well as other types of tumors. Medulloblastomas tend to have a better outlook than the other embryonal tumors. Therefore the actual survival rate for medulloblastomas would be expected to be higher than the number below, while the number for other embryonal tumors would likely be lower.

Type of Tumor

5-Year Survival Rate

Pilocytic astrocytoma

About 95%

Diffuse astrocytoma

About 80% to 85%

Anaplastic astrocytoma

About 25%

Glioblastoma

About 20%

Oligodendroglioma

About 90%

Ependymoma/anaplastic ependymoma

About 75%

Embryonal tumors (includes medulloblastoma)

About 60% to 65%

Remember, these survival rates are only estimates – they can’t predict what will happen with any child. We understand that these statistics can be confusing and may lead you to have more questions. Talk to your child's doctor to better understand your specific situation.

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.

Ostrom QT, Gittleman H, Liao P, et al. CBTRUS statistical report: Primary brain and other central nervous system tumors diagnosed in the United States in 2010-2014. Neuro Oncol. 2017;19 Suppl 5:v1−v88.

Last Medical Review: June 20, 2018 Last Revised: June 20, 2018

American Cancer Society medical information is copyrighted material. For reprint requests, please see our Content Usage Policy.