Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors in Children: Some Introductory Basics
On average in the United States each year, there are more than 4,000 new diagnoses of childhood brain and spinal cord tumors, making this the second most common type of childhood cancer after leukemia. And on average, the five-year survival rate (meaning the number of children who survive more than five years after the end of treatment) across all types of brain and spinal cord tumors (including both malignant and benign) is very good: 3 out of 4 children diagnosed with a brain tumor will survive longer than five years.
In reality, however, discussing “brain and spinal cord tumors” in a general sense is very nearly impossible. There are a wide variety of different types of brain and spinal cord tumors, each of which is very rare, requires a unique treatment approach, and has its own set of key statistics based on a fairly limited set of data (due to the rarity of each type of tumor). Therefore, while understanding the basics of brain and spinal cord tumors is important, your child’s oncology team will be able to discuss your child’s specific diagnosis, treatment approach, and long-term prognosis based on the details of his or her unique case.
Some of the most common types of brain and spinal cord tumors in children include:
- Gliomas: About 50% of all brain and spinal cord tumors in children fall into this broad category, which covers any tumor that begins in the glial cells. The most common gliomas include glioblastoma and other types of astrocytomas, brain stem gliomas (10-20% of all brain tumors) including diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas (DIPGs), ependymomas (about 5% of all brain and spinal cord tumors in children), and oligodendrocytes (about 1% of all brain and spinal cord tumors).
- Medulloblastomas: Medulloblastoma is the most common and most easily treated tumor within a broad classification known as primitive neuroectodermal tumors (PNETs). PNETs develop from immature neuroectodermal cells in the central nervous system and account for about 20% of all brain and spinal cord tumors in children. Other types of tumors within this classification include pineoblastomas, medulloepitheliomas, ependymoblastomas, and neuroblastomas that develop in the brain or spinal column.
Other, rarer forms of brain and spinal cord tumors in children include:
- Choroid plexus tumors
- Mixed glial and neuronal tumors
- Germ cell tumors
- Spinal cord tumors
About Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors: Key Prognosis Statistics
Due to the rarity with which each specific type of brain or spinal cord tumor is diagnosed, we simply do not have enough information to compile accurate statistics on five-year survival rates for every single type of brain or spinal cord tumor. Moreover, thanks to the speed at which medical science is advancing, treatment options for many different types of brain and spinal cord tumors have improved dramatically over the past few decades, making older statistics no longer relevant. So while we can provide general information on the most common types of brain tumors, based on information from the Central Brain Tumor Registry of the United States (covering children treated between 1995 and 2010), it is important to note that these statistics are general and can vary widely. Therefore, these statistics do not accurately represent the chances of long-term survival for any one specific child.
The percentages listed below refer to the 5-Year Survival Rate (the percentage of children who survive five years or more after treatment):
- Philocytic astrocytoma: 95%
- Oligodendroglioma: 90% – 95%
- Fibrillary (diffuse) astrocytoma: 80% – 85%
- Ependymoma (including anaplastic ependymoma: 75%
- PNETs (including medullablastoma and pineoblastoma): 60% – 65%
- Anaplastic astrocytoma: 30%
- Glioblastoma: 20%
About American Childhood Cancer Organization
American Childhood Cancer Organization (ACCO) is a non-profit charity dedicated to helping kids with cancer and their families navigate the difficult journey from cancer diagnosis through survivorship. Internationally, ACCO is the sole U.S. member of Childhood Cancer International (CCI), the largest patient-support organization for childhood cancer in the world. Here in the United States, ACCO promotes the critical importance of ensuring continued funding into new and better treatment protocols for childhood cancer. And most importantly, ACCO is focused on the children: developing and providing educational tools for children fighting cancer and their families, empowering them in their understanding of childhood cancer and the medical decisions they must make during this difficult journey. All of ACCO’s resources are available free of charge for families coping with childhood cancer.
For additional information about childhood cancer or on ACCO, or to order resources for you or your child, please visit our website at www.acco.org.