Brain tumours in children and young people

As it’s Brain Tumour Awareness month we thought it would be helpful to do a blog on the signs and symptoms of brain tumours in children. Around 500 children and young people in the UK are diagnosed with a brain tumour each year. While brain tumours are rare, it is important to be aware of brain tumour symptoms in children, so that you can go to your doctor if you are concerned.

There are many types of tumours that develop in children, but brain tumours are the most common. It can affect children of any age. The likelihood of boys being affected is slightly higher than that of girls.

The number of children surviving childhood cancer has increased more than ever before. Now that we have better drugs and treatments, we can also work to reduce the after-effects of cancer.

Having a child with cancer is devastating. It can be overwhelming, but there are many healthcare professionals and support organizations to help you.

It is often helpful for parents to understand more about the cancer their child has, and the treatments that may be used. It is important to ask your child’s specialist doctor or nurse if you have any questions, as they know your child’s situation best.

Signs and Symptoms

A tumour’s symptoms will depend on its size, location, and how it affects that part of the brain. The symptoms are caused by excessive pressure within the head. It is possible for a growing tumour to push normal brain out of the way, or to block the flow of fluid in the brain. Symptoms of raised intracranial pressure include:

  • headaches (often worse in the morning)
  • vomiting (usually in the morning) or feeling sick
  • fits (seizures)
  • feeling very irritated or losing interest in day-to-day things
  • eye problems, such as abnormal eye movements, blurring or double vision feeling very tired much more quickly than usual
  • feeling extremely sleepy (drowsy) for no reason.

As well as problems with balance and walking, brain tumours can also lead to weakness down one side of the body or behavioural changes. In the early stages of a brain tumour, some of these symptoms can cause confusion even without a tumour.

What happens when a brain tumour is suspected?

It can help to know what to expect from a test. Don’t be afraid to ask questions; the specialist doctor will be happy to clarify everything.

Your child will be thoroughly examined by your doctor, who will also want to know about any recent issues your child has experienced. This will involve using an ophthalmoscope to examine the backs of your child’s eyes for swelling, which may indicate elevated brain pressure. Other aspects including balance, coordination, feeling, and reflexes are usually looked at as well.

CT or MRI scan

Most children will have a CT or an MRI scan, which looks in detail at the inside of the brain.

A CT scan uses X-rays. It’s quick and often is the best first-line investigation, but it does not give as detailed pictures as an MRI. It uses quite a lot of X-rays, and so it is important to make sure we do not use it on too many people if it can be avoided.

An MRI scan uses no X-rays, and gives more detailed pictures, but takes much longer. Machines are noisy, and often children cannot lie still long enough to get proper images. It is sometimes necessary to have an anaesthetic for this scan.

Ordinary X-rays are not usually helpful for brain tumours.

Blood tests

These are usually done to make sure it is safe to do an operation, and can also be used to help diagnose certain types of tumour.


It’s often necessary for doctors to remove a small part of the tumour (biopsy) to find out exactly what type of tumour it is. It means your child will need to go into hospital for an operation under general anaesthetic. The piece of tumour removed is then examined under a microscope by a specialist doctor called a pathologist.

Types of brain tumours

These are the types of brain tumours that occur more commonly in children. They can, however, also occur in adults.

  • Medulloblastoma – The 2nd most common brain and the most common high grade tumour in children.
  • Diffuse midline glioma – A type of fast-growing, high grade brain tumours that was formerly called DIPG.
  • Ependymoma – A type of glioma most commonly found in children.
  • Craniopharyngioma – Tumours which grow near the base of the brain on the stalk of the pituitary gland.
  • Embryonal tumours – Previously known as PNETs, embryonal tumours are most common in young children.
  • Pineoblastoma – Tumours which develop from primitive cells in the pineal region at the base of the brain.
  • Brainstem glioma – A tumour that grows in the brain stem, which is responsible for body functions such as breathing.
  • Choroid plexus carcinoma – A tumour within the ventricles in the brain which can cause pressure to build-up.
  • Germ cell tumours – Tumours developing from germ cells – cells that are involved in our growth in the womb.

Types of treatment


A child might be given neurosurgery to remove as much of the brain tumour as possible or to remove a small piece of the tumour for testing (called a biopsy). Surgery can also be used to insert devices to help manage the symptoms of the tumour or help treat it.


Radiotherapy uses doses of high energy charged particles to target brain tumour cells. It does this while causing as little damage as possible to the healthy cells around the tumour.


Chemotherapy uses anti-tumour drugs called cytotoxic drugs to target a brain tumour. These drugs aim to disturb the dividing process of tumour cells. They do affect healthy cells as well, but these are able to better repair themselves.

Organisations and Support

Cancer Research UK

Cancer Research UK has an online forum called CancerChat. Here you’re able to chat to other people, including parents, who are affected by cancer.

The Brain Tumour Charity

The Brain Tumour Charity is the world’s largest dedicated brain tumour charity. It funds research, provides support and information services and raises awareness. It aims to reduce the harm brain tumours have on quality of life, and ultimately, to find a cure.

Support line: 0808 800 0004


The Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG)

The Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG) work to coordinate national and international clinical trials. They also provide information about cancer for children and their families.

Phone: 0333 050 7654


Tom’s Trust

Tom’s Trust is a UK charity that provides mental health support to children with brain tumours and their families. They currently support families from 3 cancer centres but hope to expand to more hospitals in the UK soon. As well as providing support they also have a Toolkit for adults supporting siblings of children with brain tumours.

Phone: 0300 102 8667


Young Lives vs Cancer

Young Lives vs Cancer is a charity that provides clinical, practical, financial and emotional support for children and young people and their families who are affected by cancer. You can chat to the social care team through their live chat. Or you can email or phone them.

Phone: 0300 303 5220 Monday to Friday 10am to 4pm.



Maggie’s is a national charity with centres across the UK. They offer care and support to people affected by cancer. Each centre is beside an NHS cancer hospital and is run by specialist staff.

You can join a support group, take part in weekly sessions like relaxation and stress management, or learn about nutrition and health. You can also visit just to have a cup of tea and a friendly chat.

Phone: 0300 123 1801


The Family Fund

Family Fund is the UK’s largest charity providing grants for low-income families raising children or young people that are:

  • disabled
  • seriously ill.

Family Fund aims to improve:

  • the quality of life of disabled or seriously ill children and young people
  • realise their rights
  • remove some of the barriers they face.

Phone: 01904 550055

We hope this information helps and gives you lots of advice.

If you would like to speak to us about how we could help with your First Aid training requirements, please call us on 01276 586943 or email us at for hassle-free bookings.