Childhood Brain and Spinal Tumors

Maine Medical Center’s Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital is well equipped to help diagnose and treat your child’s brain or spinal tumor. BBCH has the only pediatric surgery unit in Maine. Here the providers are supported by the most advanced diagnostic technology and treatments.

What are tumors?

  • Malignant tumors: cancerous tumors that tend to develop quickly

    • Primary tumors begin in the brain or central nervous system.

    • Metastatic tumors start in another part of the body and travel to the brain or nervous system.

  • Benign tumors: non-cancerous tumors that usually stay in one spot and develop slowly.

Brain tumor symptoms in children

Brain tumors in children cause symptoms by directly compressing a part of the brain or by blocking the flow of cerebral spinal fluid, increasing the pressure in the brain.

Some physical symptoms are:

  • Headache

  • Mood changes

  • Activity changes

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Depression

  • Drowsiness

  • Vision problems

  • Balance problems

  • Seizures

Spinal cord tumors in children

These are tumors that develop on the child’s spinal cord or near it. They usually grow slowly over a period of time, and symptoms develop as the tumor grows. The symptoms vary from child to child, but may consist of:

  • Chronic neck and back pain

  • Unexplained pains in various parts of the body

  • Neurological problems

  • Sensory impairment

  • Problems with motor skills

  • Uncontrolled bowel or bladder function

  • Loss of muscle and possibly paralysis

Brain tumor types

Tumors that occur in the brain and spine

There are different kinds of cancerous tumors, depending on which type of cells are growing out of control. Here are a few that occur in the brain and spine:

  • Astrocytomas: Caused by cancerous brain cells called astrocytes and may spread throughout the brain

  • Craniopharyngiomas: Caused by cells in the pituitary gland

  • Ependymomas: Caused by cells that keep cerebrospinal fluid healthy and moving

  • Medulloblastomas: located in the cerebellum from cancerous cells in the central nervous system

Diagnosing brain and spinal tumors

Screening and evaluation

An evaluation may include an MRI of the brain or spinal cord to look for a tumor. An MRI is a magnetic resonance imaging machine that lets doctors see more detail than from an X-ray or ultrasound. This is done by using magnetic fields and radio waves.

Treating brain and spinal tumors

Early intervention is key

If the MRI shows a tumor, a neurosurgeon, pediatric oncologist (cancer specialist), radiation oncologist, and others may be recruited to form the child’s treatment plan. Treatment can be any combination of the following methods:

  • Surgery: a neurosurgeon cuts the tumor out of the child’s brain or spinal region

  • Radiation: a radiation oncologist applies a dose of high-energy electromagnetic light waves to the tumor

  • Chemotherapy: drugs are used to target a specific kind of cancer, usually only if it is aggressive

Treatment is most effective when the tumor or tumors are diagnosed early.

Neuroscience Institute at Maine Medical Center

The Neuroscience Institute at Maine Medical Center provides expert care and advanced technology in neuropediatrics. We have pediatric specialists who provide care and services exclusively for kids.
Learn more

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