Oncologist-approved cancer information from the American Society of Clinical Oncology
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Central Nervous System - Childhood

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 5/2013
Symptoms and Signs


ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about body changes and other things that can signal a problem that may need medical care. To see other pages in this guide, use the colored boxes on the right side of your screen, or click “Next” at the bottom.

Children with a CNS tumor may experience the following symptoms or signs. Sometimes, children with a CNS tumor do not show any of these symptoms. Or, these symptoms may be caused by a medical condition that is not a tumor. If you are concerned about a symptom or sign on this list, please talk with your child’s doctor.

The symptoms of a CNS tumor can affect any of the brain’s functions and depend on where the tumor is located. A CNS tumor may cause the following symptoms:

  • A seizure or convulsion (sudden involuntary movements of a person’s muscles)
  • Staring or repetitive automatic movements (a neck tilt or a squint)
  • Unexplained, persistent nausea and projectile vomiting
  • Weakness or clumsiness that seems to get worse (difficulty walking and balancing)
  • Early or delayed puberty, or delayed or abnormal growth
  • Sleep apnea (breathing that stops periodically while asleep)
  • Vision problems
  • Headache, which may wake a child up at night or develop early in the morning
  • Pain, especially back pain
  • Irritability, listlessness, or changes in personality

In a baby, the only symptom may be that the head is growing too fast. An infant’s skull can expand to make room for a growing tumor, so the baby may have a larger than normal head.

Your child’s doctor will ask you questions about the symptoms your child is experiencing to help find out the cause of the problem, called a diagnosis. This may include how long your child has been experiencing symptom(s) and how often.

If a tumor is diagnosed, relieving symptoms and side effects remains an important part of care and treatment. This may also be called symptom management, palliative care, or supportive care. Be sure to talk with the health care team about the symptoms your child experiences, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms.

Choose “Next” (below, right) to continue reading this guide to learn about what tests and scans your child may have to learn more about the cause of the symptoms. Or, use the colored boxes located on the right side of your screen to visit any section.

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