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Childhood brain and spinal tumours

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Grades of childhood brain and spinal cord cancer

Grading is a way of classifying brain and spinal cord cancer cells based on their appearance when viewed under a microscope. A grade is given based on how the cancer cells look and behave compared to normal cells (differentiation). This can give the healthcare team an idea of how quickly the cancer may be growing and how likely it is to spread.

Astrocytomas are given a number grade based on the degree of differentiation and how slow growing (low grade) or fast growing (high grade) they are.



pilocytic astrocytoma

well differentiated or low grade – slow growing, less likely to spread


fibrillary astrocytoma

moderately well differentiated or moderate grade


anaplastic astrocytoma

poorly differentiated or higher grade


glioblastoma multiforme

very poorly differentiated or high grade – fast growing, more likely to spread or invade nearby tissue

Other types of gliomas and other brain tumours are not always given a number grade, but they may be classified as being low grade or high grade.

Grading plays an important part in planning childhood brain and spinal cord cancer treatment and can also be used to help estimate the prognosis (future outcome).


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