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A to Z: Brain Stem Glioma

A to Z: Glioma, Brain Stem

May also be called: Pontine Glioma, Diffuse Pontine Glioma

A brain stem glioma (glee-OH-muh) is any tumor that forms in a part of the brain stem.

More to Know

The brain stem, located deep in the back of the brain, is made up of three parts: the midbrain, pons, and medulla. These parts coordinate all of the brain's messages. They also control many of the body's autonomic functions (processes we almost never think about controlling, like breathing, digestion, sweating, and shivering). A tumor that develops in any area of the brain stem is called a brain stem glioma.

Symptoms of a pontine glioma (a tumor in the pons) may come on suddenly and get worse quickly. They may include:

  • double vision
  • turning in of one eyeball
  • drooping of the eyelid or one side of the face
  • trouble swallowing
  • trouble speaking and walking

Midbrain tumors may cause similar eye problems, along with headaches and vomiting. This is due to increased pressure in the head from a blockage of cerebrospinal fluid. Cerebrospinal fluid surrounds and cushions the brain and spinal cord.

Tumors of the medulla may cause swallowing problems and limb weakness.

Surgeons usually can't operate on the brain stem, so health care professionals mostly treat brain stem gliomas with radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Pontine gliomas are the most common but are often the most difficult to treat. Tumors in the midbrain and medulla are less common but usually more easily treated.

Keep in Mind

With better treatments becoming available all the time, the outlook for kids with pontine gliomas is improving, but it still isn’t very good. However, most midbrain tumors and tumors of the medulla are curable with radiation therapy.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.