Central Nervous System Tumors - Childhood: Stages and Grades

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 01/2019

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.


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 CNS tumors can spread through the spinal fluid that surrounds the brain and the spine. This information helps the doctor plan treatment and determine the child’s prognosis, which is the chance of recovery.


In addition to staging, doctors describe a CNS tumor by its grade. The grade describes how much tumor cells look like healthy cells when viewed under a microscope. The doctor compares the tumor tissue with healthy tissue. Healthy tissue usually contains many different types of cells grouped together. If the tumor cells looks similar to healthy tissue and has different cell groupings, it is called "differentiated" or a "low-grade tumor." If the tumor tissue looks very different from healthy tissue, it is called "poorly differentiated" or a "high-grade tumor." For some CNS tumors, doctors also include the genetic features of a tumor in the grade.

For most types of CNS tumors, the tumor is described as either high-grade or low-grade, depending on specific genetic changes in the tumor and what the tumor tissue looks like under the microscope. 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 be another round of 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 the 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.