Oncologist-approved cancer information from the American Society of Clinical Oncology
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Brain Stem Glioma - Childhood

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


ON THIS PAGE: You will learn about how doctors describe the growth or spread of brain stem glioma. This is called the stage or grade. To see other pages in this guide, use the colored boxes on the right side of your screen, or click “Next” at the bottom.

Staging is a way of describing where the tumor is located, if or where it has spread, and whether it is affecting other parts of the body. Doctors use diagnostic tests to determine the tumor's stage, so staging may not be complete until all of the tests are finished. Knowing the stage helps the doctor to decide what kind of treatment is best and can help predict a patient's prognosis (chance of recovery). There are different stage descriptions for different types of tumors.

There is no formal staging system for childhood brain stem glioma. A tumor may be classified as either diffuse or focal. In addition, the tumor may be classified by its grade, which describes how much the tumor cells look like normal cells. A low-grade tumor is less aggressive than a high-grade tumor.

Diffuse brain stem glioma. This type of tumor spreads freely throughout the pons and often spreads to the midbrain, the medulla, or nearby parts of the brain. These tend to be high-grade tumors; they are very aggressive and contain abnormal-looking cells.

Focal brain stem glioma. About 20% of brain stem tumors are focal, meaning they occur in one area or are contained within a small portion of the brain stem. They usually occur in the midbrain or medulla, rather than the pons. These are usually benign or low-grade tumors; they are less aggressive and the tumor cells look fairly normal.

Recurrent brain stem glioma: Recurrent brain stem glioma is a tumor that has come back after treatment. If there is a recurrence, the tumor may need to be graded again using the system above.

Information about the tumor’s stage and grade will help the doctor recommend a treatment plan for your child. Choose “Next” (below, right) to continue reading about treatment options for brain stem glioma. Or, use the colored boxes located on the right side of your screen to visit any section.

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