What is a brain stem glioma?

“Glioma” is a term used to describe tumors developed from glial cells. Glial cells surround, support and protect neurons (nerve cells) in our brain and spinal cord by providing them with oxygen, nutrients, and help protect from disease.

The brain stem is the part of the brain that is connected to the spinal cord. The brain stem controls basic bodily functions like breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, and consciousness. It also controls the nerves and muscles used to see, hear, walk, talk, and eat.

There are two types of brain stem gliomas in children:

  • DIPG is a high-grade tumor that is fast-growing and spreads throughout the brain stem. It is very difficult to treat and has a poor prognosis.
  • A focal glioma is slow-growing and only found in one area of the brain stem. It is easier to treat and has a better prognosis than DIPG.

What causes brain stem gliomas? Who is affected?

The cause of brain stem gliomas remains unknown though research is aimed at discovering the genetic risk factors of developing a brain tumor.

Brain stem gliomas mostly affects children between the ages of 5 and 10.

Boys and girls are equally affected.

What are the symptoms of brain stem gliomas?

Patients usually experience a sudden onset of symptoms including abnormalities in eye movement, weakness of one side of the face, difficulty with balance, headaches, vision or hearing problems, nausea, vomiting, more or less energy, and changes in behavior.

How are brain stem gliomas treated?

Surgery alone may treat low-grade brain stem gliomas.

Having surgery to remove the tumor may not be a viable option for high-grade gliomas due to the dangers of operating on a critical area of the brain.

The most effective and most common treatment for brain stem gliomas is radiation therapy over a 6-week period.

Chemotherapy may be given to control tumor growth.