Gliomas are tumors that develop in the brain or spinal cord. They grow from glial cells that surround nerve cells. Glial cells can develop into different types of tumors. Brainstem gliomas usually belong to a group of tumors called astrocytomas.
Astrocytomas are the most common type of tumor diagnosed in children, and most are low-grade (slow growing and not cancerous). Brainstem glioma treatment and prognosis are determined by the type, grade and location of the tumor. Possible treatments include: surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy and experimental clinical trials.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
Boys and girls are equally affected, and the most common age range of diagnosis is between 5 and 10 years. Symptoms usually appear quickly, over days or weeks.
Common symptoms of brainstem gliomas include:
- Eye movement abnormalities
- Weakness on one side of the face
- Numbness or weakness in hands and feet
- Difficulty with balance
- Double vision
- Difficulty speaking or swallowing
If your child is experiencing these symptoms, your doctor may refer him/her to a brain specialist (neurologist) or recommend further testing. One common test is a brain scan called magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI can identify the exact location of the tumor and often is all that is needed for a diagnosis.
In some cases, your doctor may want to collect a sample of the tumor for further examination (biopsy). Biopsies of brainstem gliomas have become more common in recent years and can be helpful in confirming the diagnosis and in determining treatment.
Gliomas are graded, or classified, from one to four. Low-grade tumors are characteristically slow growing and may be treated with surgery, while higher-grade tumors are faster growing and more complex to treat. The majority of tumors that develop in the brainstem region, other than proven grade 1 tumors, tend to grow rapidly and may be life-threatening.