Types of Childhood Tumors of the Brain and Spinal Cord
Tumors of the central nervous system (CNS) can usually only be accurately identified by microscopic examination of tissue. Diagnostic imaging studies (CT scans, MRI etc.) may suggest a diagnosis but usually open surgery or a biopsy are required to obtain tissue for examination. Most tumors are named based on the cell from which the tumor is thought to arise and further characterized or graded based on the patterns of growth. The "grade" of a tumor reflects its potential to grow or its aggressiveness. The terms benign and malignant do not apply well to tumors of the brain and spinal cord. A malignant tumor is defined as one that invades surrounding tissues and spreads to other organs. These characteristics are exceptionally rare in CNS tumors. Despite this, CNS tumors may still behave in an aggressive fashion by contiguous spread to vital structures. Many CNS tumors in children are thought to arise from errors in developing cells of the brain and spinal cord. Unlike in adults, tumors that spread or metastasize from other locations are quite rare in children. A great deal more information is available at the various web sites listed below. Use this information help learn the right questions to ask your doctor.
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