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Brain Stem Glioma - Childhood

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 3/2013
Overview

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ON THIS PAGE: You will find some basic information about this disease and the parts of the body it may affect. This is the first page of Cancer.Net’s Guide to Childhood Brain Stem Glioma. To see other pages, use the colored boxes on the right side of your screen. Think of those boxes as a roadmap to this full guide. Or, click “Next” at the bottom of each page.

About the brain stem

The brain stem connects the brain to the spinal cord. It is the lowest portion of the brain, located above the back of the neck. The brain stem controls many of the body’s basic functions, such as motor skills, sensory activity, coordination and walking, the beating of the heart, and breathing. It has three parts:

  • The midbrain, which develops from the middle of the brain
  • The medulla oblongata, which connects to the spinal cord
  • The pons, which is located between the medulla oblongata and the midbrain

About brain stem glioma

Brain stem glioma is a type of central nervous system (CNS; brain and spinal cord) tumor that begins when normal cells in the brain stem change and grow uncontrollably, forming a mass called a tumor. A tumor can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous, meaning it can spread to other parts of the body). A glioma is a tumor that grows from a glial cell, which is a supportive cell in the brain.

Brain stem glioma is most often diffuse (spread freely) through the brain stem by the time it is found. This type of tumor is typically very aggressive, meaning that it grows and spreads quickly. A small percentage of brain stem tumors are very localized, called focal tumors. A focal tumor is often a low-grade tumor (the tumor cells look similar to normal cells) that is less likely to grow and spread quickly.

Brain stem glioma occurs most commonly in children between five and 10 years old. Most brain stem tumors develop in the pons and grow in a part of the brain stem where it can be difficult to perform surgery, making brain stem glioma challenging to treat (see the Treatment section).

This section covers brain stem glioma diagnosed in children. Read more about brain tumors in adults.

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