Pontine Glioma: Brain Cancer

November 12, 2012

Pontine Glioma: Brain Cancer

Pontine glioma is a tumor of the brain stem in children. Often inoperable, a growing tumor can have drastic effects.

Pontine glioma is a brain cancer which normally affects children. It is responsible for about 10-15% of all brain tumors among the child population. The majority of brain stem tumors among children are gliomas. The causes of the tumors are unknown. This is not uncommon because many brain tumors have an unknown origin. These particular types of tumors are always malignant and develop within the brain stem area. They are graded based on their growth aggressiveness and are generally classified as either glioblastoma multiforme or anaplastic astrocytomas. There location against the nerves of the brain stem also gives them access to other parts of the central nervous system. When they do metastasize, they often head into the spine which can lead to further complications.

Symptoms of Pontine Glioma

The signs and symptoms of these types of tumors are often associated to the internal pressure that the tumor places on the brain stem. General side effects of pontine glioma include:

  • problems with swallowing

  • handwriting difficulties as well as problems with other fine motor skills

  • squints

  • behavior and personality changes

  • vomiting

  • nausea

  • headaches

  • abnormal walking gait

  • facial weakness

In rare occasions, the tumor can spread to the spine leading to problems such as issues with bladder control and back pain.


Brain tumors need to be diagnosed quickly so that treatment can be implemented as soon as possible. Because pontine gliomas are located around the stem cell, it is important that the size, location, and type of the tumor be identified. The most common methods used for diagnosis are CT scans and MRIs. A CT scan is a quick way for doctor’s to get an initial view of the brain. It is normally the first test performed and will usually show that an MRI is necessary. The MRI scan shows the spine and brain in much more detail than a CT scan. It is used for the actual diagnoses and will be used as a follow up test in order to see the effects of treatment on the tumor. A biopsy of the tumor may be performed to see how quickly the tumor is growing which will also be a factor in treatment.

The brain stem is an extremely sensitive area that is responsible for many important bodily functions. This means that pontine gliomas in this area are inoperable for fear of accidently damaging the brain stem leading to permanent consequences. Your child’s doctor will decide the best course of action for keeping the tumor under control such as radiation or chemotherapy. Prescription drugs can also be used to keep the signs and symptoms from the tumor and from treatment under control.

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