Brainstem Glioma


Tumour Group: Gliomas and Pediatric Brain Tumours
WHO Grade: Diffuse intrinsic brainstem gliomas are generally high-grade tumours; focal brain stem gliomas are low-grade tumours.
Prevalence/Incidence: 15 to 20% of all pediatric brain tumours are brainstem gliomas.
Typical Age Range: Occur most often in children between three and ten years of age, but can occur in adults. Around 75% of brainstem gliomas are diagnosed in children and young adults under the age of 20, but they have been known to affect older adults as well.

Description of Tumour
Treatment / Standard of Care

Description of Tumour

Brainstem gliomas start in the brain or spinal cord tissue and are very unlikely to spread throughout the nervous system. The tumour type is named for its location at the base of the brain. Diffuse intrinsic brain stem gliomas infiltrate through the entire substance of the brain stem.

Focal low-grade tumours tend to grow out from the brainstem in one area. Low-grade brainstem tumours may be associated with neurofibromatosis (NF 1 or Von Recklinhausen’s disease).


Common symptoms include:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Double vision
  • Facial weakness
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Speech or balance abnormalities
  • Weakness or numbness of the arms and/or legs

Treatment / Standard of Care

Surgery may not be an option, especially with a diffuse intrinsic brainstem glioma, because the brainstem controls vital life functions and can easily be damaged. More often, these tumours are treated with radiation therapy and sometimes chemotherapy.

Radiation therapy can reduce symptoms and help slow the tumour’s growth. Low-grade brainstem gliomas can sometimes be responsive to surgery and can have very long periods of remission.


A prognosis is an estimate of the likely progress of a disease after a diagnosis, based on an average patient group. Since every person is different, please take time to talk with your health care team about how this information applies to you.

By clicking on 'Expand,' a statistic on the prognosis for brainstem gliomas will be shown.

Expand for Prognosis Information

For brain tumour patients, a prognosis depends on several factors, which can include age and other health issues, the size of the tumour, its molecular profile, the type of tumour, how much can be removed and its response to treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Diffuse intrinsic brainstem glioma is an aggressive cancer. Without treatment, the life expectancy is typically short from the time of diagnosis. With appropriate treatment, prolonged survival may be observed, however, the minority of patients are alive at three years.


 Adult Brain Tumour Handbook 6th Edition. Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada. 2012.

"Brain Cancer Facts." Brain Cancer Facts. The Cure Starts Now, n.d. Web. 11 July 2013.

"National Cancer Institute." Childhood Brain Stem Glioma Treatment (PDQ®) -. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Sept. 2013.

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You can also download this information as a Information Sheet on Brainstem Glioma (pdf).


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