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Brain Tumors in Children

If your child is diagnosed with a brain tumor, you need a team that can offer expertise, advanced therapies and compassionate, coordinated care.

Each year, Johns Hopkins' pediatric neurosurgeons see and treat hundreds of children living with brain tumors. Because of the high number of patients coming to our center for treatment, our doctors are familiar with even the rarest kinds of brain tumors.

Pediatric Brain Tumors -- FAQs

Alan Cohen, M.D., director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins, discusses Pediatric Brain Tumors, including symptoms, diagnosis, treatment options and seeking second opinions.

Connor's Story

Four-year-old Connor said his arm kept falling asleep. Connor was experiencing seizures caused by a benign brain tumor. ABC2 cameras followed the family during their medical journey as Connor had neurosurgery conducted by pediatric neurosurgeon, Dr. Edward Ahn.

 

 You can rest assured that whatever kind of brain tumor your child is facing, Johns Hopkins pediatric neurosurgeons have access to the complete spectrum of advanced treatments.

Together, our experts will collaborate on a treatment plan individually tailored to your child's unique situation. Your team will keep you informed and empowered as you navigate each stage of diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up.

Informed by the latest research -- including clinical trials for new therapies and other studies conducted right within our institution -- Johns Hopkins offers real hope for any child with a brain tumor.

The Right Expertise -- and Environment -- for Treating Pediatric Brain Tumors

Children playing at Johns Hopkins' Children's Center

In addition to offering top-ranked neurosurgical expertise and modern techniques to help address pediatric brain tumor, Johns Hopkins provides a highly specialized environment for each stage after your child’s surgery or other treatment.

The Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) offers comprehensive medical and surgical care specially designed for children who are recovering from surgery. Inpatient treatment at Johns Hopkins’ internationally-recognized Children’s Center brings together world-class professionals in a colorful, stimulating and comforting environment for children and their families.

Meet Our Team

Photo of Dr. Edward Sanghoon Ahn, M.D.

Ahn, Edward Sanghoon, M.D.

Associate Professor of Neurosurgery
Associate Professor of Pediatrics
Joint Appointment in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery
 
Photo of Dr. Allan Joel Belzberg, M.D.

Belzberg, Allan Joel, M.D.

Professor of Neurosurgery
Co-Director, Neurosurgery Pain Research Institute
Director, Peripheral Nerve Center
George J. Heuer Professor of Neurosurgery
Co-Director, Kennedy Krieger Pediatric Nerve Injury Program
 
Photo of Dr. Alan R Cohen, M.D.

Cohen, Alan R, M.D.

Professor of Neurosurgery
Professor of Pediatrics
Director of the Johns Hopkins Division of Pediatric Neurosurgery
Director, American Board of Pediatric Neurological Society
Director, American Board of Neurological Surgery (Chairman , Oral Examination Committee)
President, Society of Neurological Surgeons
President, American Society of Pediatric Neurosurgeons
Benjamin S. Carson Sr., M.D., and Dr. Evelyn Spiro, R.N., Professor of Pediatric Neurosurgery
 
Photo of Dr. Mari Louise Groves, M.D.

Groves, Mari Louise, M.D.

Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery
 
Photo of Dr. Eric Michael Jackson, M.D.

Jackson, Eric Michael, M.D.

Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery
 
Photo of Dr. Shenandoah Robinson, M.D.

Robinson, Shenandoah, M.D.

Professor of Neurosurgery
Professor of Neurology
Professor of Pediatrics
 
Photo of Dr. Rafael Jesus Tamargo, M.D.

Tamargo, Rafael Jesus, M.D.

Professor of Neurosurgery
Professor of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery
Walter E. Dandy Professor of Neurosurgery
Director, Cerebrovascular Neurosurgery
Neurosurgical Co-Director, Neurosciences Critical Care Unit
Vice-Chairman, Department of Neurosurgery
 
Photo of Dr. Jon David Weingart, M.D.

Weingart, Jon David, M.D.

Professor of Neurosurgery
Professor of Oncology
Director, Neurosurgical Operating Room
 
 Stephanie Berry

Berry, Stephanie

Physician Assistant

 Judy Gates

Gates, Judy

Physician Assistant

 Kelly Hartnet

Hartnett, Kelly

Physician Assistant

 Heather Kerber

Kerber, Heather

Physician Assistant

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What is a brain tumor?

Nearly 2,000 children are diagnosed with brain tumors each year. Brain tumors are among the most common solid tumors in children and adolescents.

Because of their location, brain tumors in children can cause significant long-term impairment to intellectual and neurological function and can be life-threatening if not treated promptly.

Brain tumors can be categorized as malignant (cancerous), benign (non-cancerous), primary (starting in the brain) or metastatic (starting in other parts of the body and spreading to the brain).

Unlike benign tumors that tend to stay contained, malignant tumors are aggressive: They grow rapidly and can spread to areas near the original tumor and to other areas in the brain.

Types of Brain Tumors in Children

The most common types of brain tumors in children are:

  • Medulloblastomas – malignant tumors of the central nervous system arising in the cerebellum
  • Astrocytomas – a type of glioma arising from the essential star-shaped cells of the brain, the astrocytes
  • Ependymomas – arising from the cells that line the ventricles, which contain the cerebrospinal fluid
  • Craniopharyngiomas – occurring near the pituitary gland

Learn more about other types of brain tumors in children at the Johns Hopkins Pediatric Brain & Spinal Tumor Center.

Symptoms of Brain Tumors in Children

Symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Macrocephaly (enlarged head) in infants whose skull bones are not completely fused
  • Irritability
  • Lethargy and drowsiness
  • Personality and mental activity changes
  • Seizures
  • Coma and death, if left untreated

Additional symptoms related to brain tissue dysfunction caused by a growing tumor depend on its location. For example, a child with a brain tumor located in the cerebellum at the back of the head may have trouble with walking, balance or coordination. Tumors affecting the optic pathway, which is responsible for sight, can cause your child to experience vision changes.

Learn more about signs and symptoms of brain tumors in children at the Johns Hopkins Pediatric Brain & Spinal Tumor Center.

How is a brain tumor diagnosed in children?

If a child experiences brain tumor symptoms, a pediatrician or neurologist will perform a careful evaluation to diagnose the root of the problem, including imaging of the brain through an MRI.

If the MRI shows a brain tumor, a neurosurgical consultation is recommended to develop the best treatment plan. Depending on the location of the tumor, your child's treatment team may include additional specialists, such as an ophthalmologist if, for example, the tumor is located along the vision pathways.

Learn more about diagnosing brain tumors in children at the Johns Hopkins Pediatric Brain & Spinal Tumor Center.

Treatment for Brain Tumors in Children

Treatment options and long-term outcomes in pediatric patients vary depending on the type of brain tumor, the grade of the tumor and its location in the brain. Because there are many vital structures in the brain, careful evaluation is necessary to determine the accessibility of the tumor. Your child's treatment plan may include:

  • Surgery: The purpose of surgery is to make a definitive diagnosis, remove as much tumor as possible and relieve intracranial pressure caused by the tumor. For low grade or slow-growing tumors, surgery may be the only intervention necessary. Neurosurgeons at Johns Hopkins have access to advanced technologies, such as computer-based image guidance (essentially a GPS system for the brain), minimally invasive neuroendoscopic techniques and intraoperative MRI, which allows surgeons to operate with more precision. That means our neurosurgeons can now see and address hidden slivers of tumor that may be hard to detect, and treat them before the patient leaves the operating room.
  • Radiation Therapy: Focusing beams of high energy light on the tumor tissue and a small amount of surrounding tissue can address the invasiveness of a malignant brain tumor. Stereotactic radiation treatments, available for specific types of tumors, can reduce the tumor without surgery.
  • Chemotherapy is used for aggressive, high-grade tumors. 

Learn more about treatment for brain tumors in children at the Johns Hopkins Pediatric Brain & Spinal Tumor Center.

Follow-Up Care

Specific treatment recommendations made by the neurosurgeon should be followed carefully.

The recovery process is different for each patient. Children who received prompt diagnosis and treatment tend to do well after surgery. Some may experience some temporary neurological deficits such as muscle weakness; these symptoms are likely to resolve soon after surgery, unless there was substantial permanent damage before the child was diagnosed. Physical therapy will help improve strength, function and speed of recovery.

Most children are able to go home shortly after surgery, requiring only pain medications while the surgical site heals. They should be encouraged to assume their regular daily activities such as school, social events and play. Physical activities should be encouraged as tolerated. 

Regular post-operative follow-up visits with the child’s neurosurgeon are also important. This allows the neurological function, tumor recurrence and side effects from chemotherapy or radiation therapy to be monitored carefully.


To request a consultation or make an appointment, please contact Johns Hopkins Pediatric Neurosurgery at 410-955-7337.

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Pediatric Neurosurgery: 410-955-7337

 

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