Childhood brain and spinal tumours

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Treatments for childhood brain and spinal cord tumours

Your child’s treatment will be overseen by a pediatric neurosurgeon. They will work along with other specialists such as a pediatric neurologist, radiation oncologist, pediatric neuro-oncologist, endocrinologist and neuro-oncologist. Find out more about your child’s healthcare team.

If your child has a brain or spinal cord tumour, the healthcare team will create a treatment plan just for your child. It will be based on your child’s health and specific information about the cancer. When deciding which treatments to offer for childhood brain and spinal cord tumours, the healthcare team will consider:

  • the type, size and location of the tumour
  • how far the tumour has grown or spread
  • whether the tumour can be surgically removed
  • the grade of the tumour
  • your child’s age, neurological condition and general health

Your child may be offered one or more of the following treatments for brain and spinal cord tumours.

Surgery is often used to treat childhood brain and spinal cord tumours. The goal of surgery is to completely remove the tumour or remove as much of the tumour as possible.

Radiation therapy is commonly used to treat childhood brain and spinal cord tumours. Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays or particles to destroy cancer cells. In children under 3 years old, radiation can damage developing brain cells, and doctors will try to postpone radiation therapy until the child is older.

Chemotherapy may also be used to treat childhood brain and spinal cord tumours. Chemotherapy uses anticancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells.

Corticosteroids and antiseizure medicines (anticonvulsants) are often used to treat symptoms caused by childhood brain and spinal cord tumours and their treatment, such as swelling of the brain or spinal cord and seizures.

Stem cell transplant is sometimes used to treat certain childhood brain and spinal cord tumours. A stem cell transplant uses high-dose chemotherapy to destroy bone marrow cells. After high-dose chemotherapy, healthy stem cells are given to replace the ones in the bone marrow that were destroyed.

Active surveillance may be a treatment option for some types of low-grade brain or spinal cord tumours. Active surveillance means that the healthcare team watches the tumour closely. Treatment is given if there are any signs that the tumour is growing or there is an increased risk that the tumour will progress.

Follow-up care

Follow-up after treatment is an important part of cancer care. Your child will need to have regular follow-up visits. These visits allow your child’s healthcare team to monitor your child’s progress and recovery from treatment.

Clinical trials

Many children with childhood brain and spinal cord tumours are treated in a clinical trial. Clinical trials look at new ways to prevent, find and treat cancer. Find out more about clinical trials.

Questions to ask about treatment

To make the decisions that are right for your child, ask the healthcare team questions about treatment.