Pediatric Tumors of the

Central and Peripheral Nervous System

Brain and Spinal Tumors in Children

The Central Nervous System (CNS) comprises the brain and the spinal cord, whereas the Peripheral Nervous System (PNS) comprises the nerves and ganglia (tissue mass) outside the brain and the spinal cord.


Tumors of the nervous system are the most common type of solid childhood tumors, comprising about 21 percent of all childhood neoplasms. Approximately 3,000 children every year are diagnosed with brain tumors in the U.S. Surgery is the most common treatment for these children.


Over the past 20 years, due to advancements in surgical techniques and adjunctive therapies, children with tumors of the nervous system have experienced significant improvement in survival rates and outcomes.


Today, researchers have begun to unveil the molecular and genetic causes of these tumors, which has led to promising new therapies with the potential to further improve outcomes. Although, treatment and prognosis for recovery depend on several factors, including the type of tumor, its location, and the general health and age of the child.


In this potentially overwhelming and stressful time, the entire team at ANA is here to provide you with clear and comprehensive explanations, expert diagnosis or a second opinion, as well as treatment options.


Possible brain tumor symptoms in children include:

  • Gradual loss of sensation or movement in an arm or leg
  • Unsteady or imbalanced movement, especially if present with a headache
  • Vision loss in one or both eyes, especially peripheral vision loss
  • Double vision, particularly if associated with a headache
  • Gradual onset of difficulty of speech
  • Loss of hearing, with or without dizziness
  • Possible nausea or vomiting (more severe in the morning), or extreme loss of appetite
  • memory loss, disorientation, confusion
  • Fever
  • Fatigue, listlessness or pallor
  • Swelling or lumps anywhere on the body
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Change in disposition, e.g., whining or crying spells, unusual irritability
  • Regression of toilet habits
  • Easy and frequent bruising
  • Nosebleeds or bleeding from any part of the body

Other symptoms associated with, although not necessarily caused by, a brain tumor include:

  • Headache – While headaches are the most evident symptom of the presence of a brain tumor, many people may suffer from persistent or severe headaches but do not have a brain tumor.
  • Headaches that especially raise a red flag include: a steady headache that is worse in the morning, a persistent headache combined with nausea or vomiting, or a headache that includes weakness, numbness or double vision. These types of headaches indicate the possibility of a brain tumor.


It is important that if you or someone you know suspects a brain tumor, you seek medical attention. Persistent symptoms warrant an MRI or CT scan in order to gain a diagnosis. The earlier a brain tumor is detected and treated, the better the odds of increased survival.

Spinal tumor symptoms in children

Spinal tumors can occur:

  • Inside the spinal cord (intramedullary)
  • In the meninges (membranes) covering the spinal cord (extramedullary – intradural)
  • Between the meninges and bones of the spine (extradural)


The tumor may press on the spinal cord or nerve roots, causing damage; with time, the damage may become permanent.


The predominant symptom of both benign and malignant spinal tumors is back pain not attributed to injury or stress and located especially in the middle or lower back. The pain may increase with activity and is often worse at night. The pain may also worsen over time, as well as spread to the hips, legs, feet or arms.


Depending on the type and location of the tumor, other symptoms may occur, and can include the following:


  • Loss of sensation or muscle weakness in the legs, arms or chest
  • Difficulty walking, which may cause falls
  • Decreased sensitivity to pain, heat, and cold
  • Loss of bowel or bladder function
  • Paralysis that may occur in varying degrees and in different parts of the body, depending on which nerves are compressed
  • Scoliosis or other spinal deformity resulting from a large, but benign tumor

Clinical trials

ANA has access to a wide range of clinical trials, to which our experts can guide a patient whenever beneficial and relevant. Clinical trials are rigorously controlled tests of new drugs or medical devices or procedures. In the U.S., these trials are conducted under the direction of the FDA before they are made available for general clinical use.


Besides helping to develop future treatments with your child’s participation, the benefits of clinical trials with ANA is that you gain access to treatments that are not yet widely available. Moreover, in the case of pediatric cancer, clinical trials are a key factor in improving both treatments and prognosis.


Your team at ANA will explain the meaning and goals of Phase 1, 2 and 3 clinical trials, as well as the benefits and risks of participation in any relevant trial. As always, our goal is to build your trust by way of informing and including you.


Pediatric Clinic Trials Resource
The Children’s Oncology Group (COG)