Central Nervous System Tumors (Brain and Spinal Cord) - Childhood: Latest Research

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 09/2023

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about the scientific research being done to learn more about central nervous system (CNS) tumors diagnosed in children and how to treat them. Use the menu to see other pages.

Doctors are working to learn more about CNS tumors, ways to prevent them, how to best treat them, and how to provide the best care to children diagnosed with a tumor in the brain or spinal cord. The following areas of research may include new options for patients through clinical trials. Always talk with your child’s doctor about the best diagnostic and treatment options for your child.

  • New medications. Doctors are examining new types of drugs that may better control tumor growth. These include:

    • Targeted therapy. As outlined in Types of Treatment, recent research has found specific genes, proteins, and other factors unique to different types of CNS tumors. Treatments aimed at these factors, called targeted therapy, continue to be studied. Targeted therapy is a treatment that targets the tumor’s specific genes, proteins, or the tissue environment that contributes to the tumor's growth and survival. This type of treatment blocks the growth and spread of tumor cells while limiting damage to healthy cells.

    • Immunotherapy. Also called biologic therapy, immunotherapy uses the body's natural defenses to fight a tumor by improving the immune system’s ability to attack tumor cells. Researchers are studying how well these drugs work and how safe they are for children with CNS tumors.

  • Improved imaging techniques. Imaging techniques are being developed and refined that help surgeons pinpoint the tumor’s location. This may help reduce or prevent tissue damage to the healthy parts of the brain during treatment.

    • Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is an imaging technique that identifies the parts of the brain that control speech, hearing, vision, touch, and movement. The specific locations of these functions are slightly different in every person, so fMRI allows surgeons to plan surgery around these areas.

    • Image-guided stereotaxis allows surgeons to visualize and operate on the brain using 3-dimensional outlines of the brain and the tumor. Along with specialized software, these images help guide the surgeon to the tumor. Many tumors that were once considered inoperable can now be removed with this technique.

    • Magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) and positron emission tomography (PET) scans are also being used to examine tumor metabolic activity. Whether these techniques will improve a doctor’s ability to predict how a tumor will grow and spread is still being researched.

  • Improved methods of delivering radiation therapy. Doctors are experimenting with new techniques for delivering radiation therapy to certain types of tumors. These methods make detailed, 3-dimensional maps of the brain and the tumor so doctors can focus the radiation therapy on the tumor and avoid damage to the nearby healthy tissue. This can reduce a child’s exposure to radiation and lessen the long-term side effects.

  • Palliative and supportive care. Clinical trials are underway to find better ways of reducing symptoms and side effects of current CNS tumor treatments to improve comfort and quality of life for patients.

Looking for More About the Latest Research?

If you would like more information about the latest areas of research in childhood CNS tumors, explore these related items that take you outside of this guide:

The next section in this guide is Coping with Treatment. It offers some guidance on how to cope with the physical, emotional, social, and financial changes that a CNS tumor and its treatment can bring. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.