Brain and central nervous system (CNS) tumours are the most common solid tumour of childhood, accounting for a quarter of all cancers.  Every year, around 400 children are diagnosed in the UK. Brain tumours are often picked up later than other childhood cancers due to their varied and often initially subtle symptoms.


Children with brain tumours can develop a range of symptoms. Often  they are subtle initially but increase over time. They may include:

  • Persistent or recurrent vomiting, especially in the morning
  • New problems with coodination or balance. Feeling unsteady
  • Behaviour or personality change
  • Tiredness
  • Frequent or persistent headaches
  • Unusual eye movements or a new squint
  • Blurred vision
  • Diplopia 
  • New onset of fits (seizures)



This is the most common brain tumour type in children, accounting for 40% of brain tumours. Around 3/4 of astrocytomas are low grade and have a 5 year survival of 95%. Unfortunately, the other 1/4 of astrocytomas are high grade tumours (more aggressive) and have a poorer prognosis.

​Embroyonal tumours

These include medulloblastoma and PNET  (primitive neuroectodermal tumours). They are most common in the very young children, accounting for 70 cases a year in the UK.


Ependyma makes up about 10% of childhood CNS tumours, with a 5 year survival of 71%.

​Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG)

This is rare but unfortunately has the worst prognosis of all paediatric tumour. 

DIPG has very poor survival rates with almost all children passing away within 9 months of diagnosis. Radiation is used in a number of cases to help slow progression.

Treatment of brain tumours

The main treatment for most brain tumours is surgery with or without radiotherapy. Radiotherapy is avoided if possible in children under the age of 3 years due to the damage it causes to the developing brain. Proton beam radiotherapy is used in some cases but is not yet available in the UK. Chemotherapy is used routinely in medulloblastoma and is increasingly being used to treat other brain tumour types.

Please see:

HeadSmart, know the symptoms for more information and resources on the signs and symptoms of brain tumours and how they may present.

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Card reproduced from HeadSmart.

If you are reading this page, the likelihood is that you are worried your child or a child close to you may have cancer. Alternatively, they may have recently been diagnosed. If you have any concerns or queries, please discuss them with a member of your child's health care team. If you are unsure, it is always better to have your child reviewed.