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A to Z: Brain Stem Glioma

May also be called: Pontine Glioma, Diffuse Pontine Glioma, Midbrain Tumor, Tumor of the Medulla

A brain stem glioma (glee-OH-muh) is any tumor that forms in a part of the brain stem.

More to Know

The brain stem, located deep in the back of the brain, is made up of three parts: the midbrain, pons, and medulla. These parts coordinate the brain’s messages. They also control many of the body’s autonomic functions (processes we almost never think about controlling, like breathing, digestion, sweating, and shivering). A tumor that develops in any area of the brain stem is called a brain stem glioma.

Types of brain stem gliomas include pontine glioma, midbrain tumor, and tumor of the medulla.

In a pontine glioma (a tumor in the pons), symptoms may come on suddenly and get worse quickly. They can include:

  • double vision
  • turning in of one eyeball
  • drooping of the eyelid
  • trouble swallowing
  • trouble speaking and walking

Pontine gliomas are the most common brain stem tumors and are hard to treat.

Midbrain tumors may cause similar eye problems, along with headaches and vomiting. This is due to increased pressure in the head from a blockage of cerebrospinal fluid. Cerebrospinal fluid surrounds and cushions the brain and spinal cord.

Tumors of the medulla may cause swallowing problems and limb weakness.

Surgeons usually can’t operate on the brain stem, so oncologists (cancer doctors) mostly treat brain stem gliomas with radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Keep in Mind

With more treatments becoming available, the outlook for kids with brain stem gliomas is improving.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.