What is brainstem glioma?

Brainstem gliomas are tumours which develop from glial cells within the brain stem.

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.

Childhood brain stem gliomas can be low grade gliomas in one area of the brain stem (focal tumours) or, more commonly, diffuse, high grade tumours in the part of the brain stem called the pons. These are faster growing and tend to spread into the surrounding brain tissue. They are called DIPGs (Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma).

Occasionally focal tumours can be operated on to remove some of the tumour, but usually surgery is not an option for brain stem gliomas. This is due to their delicate location where operating could do more harm than good.

They are usually treated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

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

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