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What is childhood ependymoma?

Childhood ependymoma is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the brain and spinal cord. Childhood ependymomas are slow-growing tumors. 

How common is childhood ependymoma?

About 1 in 11 childhood brain tumors are ependymomas. Although cancer is rare in children, brain tumors are the most common type of childhood cancer other than leukemia and lymphoma. 

Where do childhood ependymoma's occur most often?

Ependymomas most commonly form in these parts of the central nervous system (CNS):

  • Cerebrum. The largest part of the brain, at the top of the head. The cerebrum controls thinking, learning, problem-solving, speech, emotions, reading, writing, and voluntary movement.
  • Cerebellum. The lower, back part of the brain (near the middle of the back of the head). The cerebellum controls movement, balance, and posture.
  • Brain stem. The part that connects the brain to the spinal cord, in the lowest part of the brain (just above the back of the neck). The brain stem controls breathing, heart rate, and the nerves and muscles used in seeing, hearing, walking, talking, and eating.
  • Spinal cord. The column of nerve tissue that runs from the brain stem down the center of the back. It is covered by three thin layers of tissue called membranes. The spinal cord and membranes are surrounded by the vertebrae (back bones). Spinal cord nerves carry messages between the brain and the rest of the body, such as a signal from the brain to cause muscles to move or from the skin to the brain for the sense of touch. 

What causes childhood ependymomas?

The cause of most childhood brain tumors is unknown. 

What are the symptoms of childhood ependymoma?

The symptoms of childhood ependymoma vary and often depend on the child’s age and where the tumor is located. The following symptoms and others may be caused by childhood ependymoma: 

  • Frequent headaches
  • Seizures
  • Frequent nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of balance or trouble walking

What is the prognosis for children diagnosed with childhood ependymoma?

The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on:

  • Whether cancer cells remain after surgery
  • The type of ependymoma and whether it begins in the brain or in the spinal cord
  • The age of the child when the tumor is diagnosed
  • Whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the central nervous system, such as the meninges (membranes covering the brain) and the spinal cord
  • Whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the bone or lung
  • Whether the tumor has just been diagnosed or has recurred (come back)

What are the stages of childhood ependymomas?

The area where the tumor is found and the child’s age are used in place of a staging system to plan cancer treatment. Staging is the process used to find out how much cancer there is and if cancer has spread. It is important to know the stage in order to plan treatment. There is no standard staging system for childhood ependymoma. Instead, the plan for cancer treatment after surgery depends on the following: 

  • Whether any cancer cells remain after surgery
  • Whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the brain or spinal cord
  • The age of the child

Recurrent childhood ependymoma is a tumor that has recurred (come back) after it has been treated. Childhood ependymoma commonly recurs, usually at the original cancer site. The tumor may come back as long as 15 years or more after initial treatment.

About PDQ & This Cancer Information Summary

PDQ is the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) comprehensive cancer information database. PDQ is provided as a service of the NCI. The NCI is part of the National Institutes of Health, the federal government's focal point for biomedical research. The PDQ database contains summaries of the latest published information on cancer prevention, detection, genetics, treatment, supportive care, and complementary and alternative medicine. The PDQ cancer information summaries are developed by cancer experts and reviewed regularly. 

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