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Symptoms of Brain Tumors in Children

Signs and Symptoms of Childhood Brain Tumors


Updated May 27, 2014

The symptoms of brain tumors vary greatly depending on two factors: where in the brain the tumor is located and the size of the mass. The brain is extremely delicate and complex - a very small tumor can greatly affect the body. The severity of a symptom, however, does not give insight to whether the tumor is large or small.

Brain tumors can either be malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous). A malignant brain tumor in a child is a rare event. Aside from leukemia and lymphoma, childhood brain cancer is one of the most common childhood malignant diseases.

Symptoms of Brain Tumors in Children

Headaches. Headaches can be a common symptom of a brain tumor. While a headache in a child is most likely due to a much less serious condition, chronic headaches should not be ignored. Headaches related to brain tumors typically become more frequent and increase in severity over time. They often awaken a child while they are sleeping and are not relieved by over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Take careful note of headaches that worsen while sneezing or coughing, and also those that worsen when bending over or laying down. Headaches are often accompanied by other symptoms.

Seizures. Like headaches, seizures are much more likely to be related to another condition - and not a brain tumor. However, up to half of people with brain tumors have seizures. Seizure can be very mild and cause jerky movements to more severe reactions, like loss of consciousness. If you suspect your child may have had a seizure, seek medical attention immediately.

Increased Sleep and Fatigue A child who begins to sleep more or does not participate in playing or other activities because of fatigue should be evaluated by a physician. Many things can cause a child to sleep more or become frequently tired, not just brain tumors. Sleeping longer and more frequently can be a symptom of a brain tumor, however it is often accompanied by other symptoms.

Cognitive Decline. If you notice your child suddenly has problems remembering things or is having trouble concentrating, you should report this to his or her pediatrician as soon as possible. This symptom is a sometimes more recognizable is children who are of school age. Suddenly, it takes these children longer to complete tasks than it normally would. In smaller children, an example would be a child playing with a toy, but taking longer to interact with it as it should - like with Legos or shape sorters. It is the slower processing speed of the brain that raises a red flag for a neurological condition to physicians. These symptoms can appear suddenly or gradually worsen.

Personality Changes. Personality changes often don't signal the thought of a brain tumor to parents, but they can to a pediatrician in some circumstances. Personality changes are much more likely related to a response to an event, not a brain tumor. However, some children with brain tumors so display changes in their personality. You may notice your child laughs at things they should not find funny or become angry suddenly with outbursts/tantrums. Normal personality traits may also become exaggerated.

Speech Changes. Speech changes in relation to brain tumors can can include a wide array of changes. Slurring of the words or slow speech can occur. A child with a brain tumor may say things that make very little sense, despite efforts to communicate with the correct words.

Physical changes A child with a brain tumor may experience weakness on one side of the body. He may become suddenly "clumsy" losing balance or walking to walls or stumbling. An abnormal gait may also be present. Coordinated movements may become difficult.


American Cancer Society. Detailed Guide: Brain / CNS Tumors in Children. May 13, 2009.

B. C. Reulecke, C. G. Erker, B. J. Fiedler, T.-U. Niederstadt, and G. Kurlemann Brain Tumors in Children: Initial Symptoms and Their Influence on the Time Span Between Symptom Onset and Diagnosis J Child Neurol, February 1, 2008; 23(2): 178 - 183.

D. W. Lewis, S. Ashwal, G. Dahl, D. Dorbad, D. Hirtz, A. Prensky, and I. Jarjour Practice parameter: Evaluation of children and adolescents with recurrent headaches: Report of the Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology and the Practice Committee of the Child Neurology Society Neurology, August 27, 2002; 59(4): 490 - 498.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. NINDS Brain and Spinal Tumors Information Page. August 3, 2009.

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