Brain Tumors Overview

Brain tumors are abnormal tissue growths in the brain that can impinge on areas that play key cognitive, behavioral, and life-sustaining functions. There are many kinds of brain tumors, but all are potentially dangerous and should be quickly identified and treated.

Some childhood brain tumors are called “malignant” because they contain cancer cells and are prone to grow quickly and return even if removed. Other, non-cancerous tumors are called “benign.” Benign tumors, once removed, usually do not grow back.

Approximately 4,000 children and adolescents in the US are diagnosed with brain tumors each year. Many are successfully treated and go on to lead healthy lives.

Childhood brain tumors are significantly different than adult brain tumors on structural and bio-molecular levels, so they require specialized pediatric treatments. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Cancer Institute recommend that children seek cancer diagnoses and treatments at pediatric cancer centers, such as Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford. Studies show twenty percent to forty percent higher survival rates for children receiving care in specialized centers.

Finding the best possible treatment for a child with a brain tumor requires precisely locating and identifying the tumor. This is done through a combination of neurological examination, imaging, and sometimes biopsy. Advanced imaging technology, such as our 3-tesla magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner, is key at this phase, allowing doctors to make detailed maps of a tumor’s borders and the critical brain functions around them. Knowing the nature of the tumor, its exact location, and its stage of growth, allows surgeons to remove as much of the tumor as possible at the lowest risk to patients. However, no tumor is worth risking the quality of life of the child with surgery alone which highlights the importance of adjuvant therapy for higher grade tumors.

Among those patients requiring surgery, some also need further therapy, such as radiation and chemotherapy, to destroy any remaining cancer cells. Rehabilitative physical therapy may also help a patient regain maximum function after other treatments. In the months and years after treatment, monitoring and follow up treatments may also be key. Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford provides ongoing access to all of these services for children with cancer.

As a world leader in pediatric brain tumor research, we are continually advancing the cutting edge of medical understanding and practice. First-line access to a broad range of clinical trials and research advances represents a huge benefit to patients in this quickly evolving field.

At Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, young patients receive the best available care from a top-rated team of caring surgeons, neurologists, neuro oncologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, and social workers, who collaborate to achieve the best possible medical outcome and quality of life for each patient. An adolescent and young adult cancer program was just launched to meet the specialized needs of this population.