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Signs and Symptoms

A brain tumor can cause symptoms by directly pressing on the surrounding brain, or by causing a buildup of spinal fluid and pressure throughout the brain (a condition known as hydrocephalus). A range of symptoms can develop as a result.

Signs or symptoms vary depending on a child's age and the location of the tumor, but may include:

  • vomiting
  • seizures
  • weakness of the face, trunk, arms, or legs
  • slurred speech
  • difficulty standing or walking
  • poor coordination
  • headache
  • in babies, a rapidly enlarging head

Because symptoms might develop gradually and can be like those of other common childhood conditions, brain tumors can be difficult to diagnose. So it's always wise to discuss any symptoms that concern you with your child's doctor.


A doctor who suspects that a child has a brain tumor will order imaging studies of the brain: a CT scan, MRI, or possibly both. These procedures let doctors see inside the brain and identify any areas that look abnormal. Although both are painless, they do require children to be very still. Some kids, especially those who are young, may need to be sedated for these scans.

If imaging studies reveal a brain tumor, then surgery is likely to be the next step. A pediatric neurosurgeon will try to remove the tumor; if complete removal is not possible, then partial removal — or at least a biopsy (removal of a sample for microscopic examination) — may be done to confirm the diagnosis.

A pediatric pathologist (a doctor who helps diagnose diseases in children by looking at body tissues and cells under a microscope) will then review the tissue to classify and grade the tumor.

Special tests might be used to analyze the genetic makeup of the tumor cells. Using these tests to get specific information about cancer cells can help doctors identify the tumor and develop the best treatment plan for someone with a brain tumor...


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