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What is a brainstem glioma?

Brainstem gliomas are tumours that form within the brain stem and are most commonly found in children.

The brain stem is the lowest part of the brain, at the back, and joins the brain to the spinal cord. It is responsible for many vital body functions that we don't need to think about. For example, motor skills, sensory activity, coordination and walking, the beating of the heart, and breathing.

Around 75% of brainstem gliomas are diagnosed in children and young adults under the age of twenty, but they can affect older adults as well.

Childhood brainstem gliomas can be low grade gliomas in one area of the brain stem, these are known as focal tumours. 

More commonly, brainstem gliomas are diffuse, high grade tumours that form in the part of the brain stem called the pons. They are called DIPGs (Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma) or DMGs (Diffuse Midline Glioma). These tumours are faster growing and tend to spread into the surrounding brain tissue.

Treating brain stem gliomas

Occasionally, focal brainstem tumours can be operated on to remove some of the tumour, but usually surgery isn't an option. This is due to their delicate location, where operating could do more harm than good.

This means brainstem tumours are usually treated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

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