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What is a brainstem glioma?
A pediatric brainstem glioma is a tumor that forms in the tissues of the brainstem. Gliomas are formed from glial cells. Glial cells in the brain hold nerve cells in place, bring food and oxygen to the nerve cells and help protect nerve cells from infection.
There are two type of brainstem gliomas in children:
A fast-growing tumor that develops in the section of the brainstem called the pons. The pons is the portion of the brainstem that controls breathing, heart rate and other vital functions.
A slow-growing tumor that forms outside of the pons and is in only one area of the brainstem.
Signs and symptoms
Is it a brainstem glioma?
The signs and symptoms of a pediatric brainstem glioma are not the same in every child and can depend on the following:
Where the tumor forms
The size of the tumor and if it has spread
How fast the tumor grows
Your child’s age and stage of development
Symptoms might include:
Trouble with eye movement (eyes turn inward)
Morning headache or headache that goes away after vomiting
Nausea and vomiting
Loss of ability to move one side of the face or body
Loss of balance or trouble walking
More/less energy than usual
Changes in behavior
Trouble learning in school
Pediatric brainstem glioma diagnosis
Your child’s doctor will do a full physical exam and take a detailed medical history. Additional tests could include:
Neurological exam to check the brain, spinal cord and nerve function
If the MRI scan looks like a focal brainstem glioma, a tissue biopsy might be done while your child is under anesthesia.
10 to 20 percent of all childhood brainstem gliomas are diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas (DIPG), which are highly aggressive and difficult-to-treat tumors found at the base of the brain. DIPG are diagnosed through the MRI.
A plan tailored to your child’s condition
Treatment for DIPG
Because a DIPG cannot be removed surgically, radiation therapy is recommended to temporarily stop the tumor from growing. While many studies are underway to better understand the biology of a diffuse brainstem glioma, it is currently considered fatal.
Fighting pediatric cancer and blood disorders
The UW Carbone Cancer Center offers the most advanced treatment options. Our pediatric cancer and blood disorder experts are national research leaders. We test new therapies and continue to work on therapies for pediatric cancer and blood disorders. For many children with rare or hard-to-treat conditions, clinical trials provide new options.
Care for your child
UW Health Kids | Carbone Cancer Center experts are dedicated to diagnosing and treating all infants, children and adolescents with cancer.
Our pediatric oncologists are part of the UW Carbone Cancer Center, which is a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. This designation means that the doctors taking care of your child are experts in cancer treatment, research and education.
At American Family Children’s Hospital, you will find a friendly, child-centered environment. Our hospital is designed with relaxing spaces and areas where children are encouraged to play.
Meet our team
Experts you can trust
Your child’s care is our top priority and we understand the unique needs they have. Your child’s team will include:
Oncologists (cancer doctors)
Hematologists (blood disease doctors)
Child life specialists
Pain management specialists
Physical, occupational and speech therapists
Radiologists and radiation technologists
Patient and support services
You’re never alone
There are services available at both American Family Children’s Hospital and in the community to help patients and their families through every step of their journey.
Child life specialists help your child and family cope with any fears and anxieties, and the American Family Children's Hospital patient and family visitor guide features information about:
Positive Image Center
Spiritual care services
Tyler's Place (sibling child care)
Pediatric cancer services
With our expertise comes compassion. Our team considers you and your child part of our family. We will be by your side every step of the way. From diagnosis through treatment and into adulthood, we will care for your child as if they are our own.Learn more