Central Nervous System Tumors (Brain and Spinal Cord) - Childhood: Stages and Grades

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 06/2022

ON THIS PAGE: You will learn about how doctors describe a tumor’s growth or spread. This is called the stage or grade. Use the menu to see other pages.

What is staging?

Staging is a way of describing where a tumor is located, if or where it has spread, and whether it is affecting other parts of the body. Several types of childhood central nervous system (CNS) tumors can spread through the spinal fluid that surrounds the brain and the spine. Staging helps determine the child’s prognosis (chance of recovery) and helps the doctor plan the child's treatment(s).


As explained in the Introduction, doctors often describe a CNS tumor by its grade. Tumor grade describes how similar the tumor cells look in comparison to healthy cells when viewed under a microscope. Tumor grade is ranked on a scale from grade I to grade IV (1 to 4). Grades I and II are considered to be low-grade; grades III and IV are considered to be high-grade. In general, a child with a low-grade tumor has a better prognosis.

Recurrent CNS tumor

A recurrent tumor is a tumor that comes back after treatment. If the tumor does return, there will sometimes be a biopsy and other tests to learn about the extent of the recurrence. These tests and scans are often similar to those done at the time of the original diagnosis.

There are different stage descriptions for different types of tumors. Read more about staging for a specific type of CNS tumor. For example, review the Stages and Grades section in Cancer.Net’s guide to astrocytoma, if that is your child's specific diagnosis.

Information about the tumor’s stage and grade will help the doctor recommend a specific treatment plan. The next section in this guide is Types of Treatment. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.