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Childhood Atypical Teratoid/Rhabdoid Tumor Treatment

General Information About Atypical Teratoid/Rhabdoid Tumor

Central nervous system atypical teratoid/rhabdoid tumor is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the brain.

Central nervous system (CNS) atypical teratoid/rhabdoid tumor (AT/RT) is a very rare, fast-growing tumor of the brain and spinal cord. It usually occurs in children younger than three years of age, although it can occur in older children and adults.

About half of these tumors form in the cerebellum or brain stem. The cerebellum is the part of the brain that controls movement, balance, and posture. The brain stem controls breathing, heart rate, and the nerves and muscles used in seeing, hearing, walking, talking, and eating. AT/RT may also be found in other parts of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord).


Anatomy of the brain, showing the cerebrum, cerebellum, brain stem, and other parts of the brain.
Anatomy of the brain, showing the cerebrum, cerebellum, brain stem, and other parts of the brain.

Anatomy of the inside of the brain, showing the pineal and pituitary glands, optic nerve, ventricles (with cerebrospinal fluid shown in blue), and other parts of the brain.
Anatomy of the inside of the brain, showing the pineal and pituitary glands, optic nerve, ventricles (with cerebrospinal fluid shown in blue), and other parts of the brain.

This summary describes the treatment of primary brain tumors (tumors that begin in the brain). Treatment for metastatic brain tumors, which are tumors formed by cancer cells that begin in other parts of the body and spread to the brain, is not discussed in this summary. For more information see the PDQ summary on Childhood Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors Treatment Overview about the different types of childhood brain and spinal cord tumors.

Brain tumors can occur in both children and adults; however, treatment for children may be different than treatment for adults. See the PDQ treatment summary on Adult Brain Tumors for more information.

Certain genetic changes may increase the risk of atypical teratoid/rhabdoid tumor.

Anything that increases the risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn’t mean that you will not get cancer. Parents who think their child may be at risk for cancer should discuss this with their child's doctor.

Atypical teratoid/rhabdoid tumor may be linked to a change in a tumor suppressor gene called SMARCB1. This type of gene makes a protein that helps control cell growth. Changes in the DNA of tumor suppressor genes like SMARCB1 may lead to cancer.

Changes in the SMARCB1 gene may be inherited (passed on from parents to offspring). When the SMARCB1 gene change is inherited, tumors may form in two parts of the body at the same time (for example, in the brain and the kidney). If AT/RT is diagnosed, genetic counseling (a discussion with a trained professional about inherited diseases and a possible need for gene testing) may be recommended.

The symptoms of atypical teratoid/rhabdoid tumor are not the same in every patient.

Because atypical teratoid/rhabdoid tumor is fast growing, symptoms may develop quickly and progress over a period of days or weeks. Symptoms vary and depend on the age of the patient and where the tumor has formed.

These symptoms may be caused by AT/RT or by other conditions. A doctor should be consulted if any of the following problems occur:

Tests that examine the brain and spinal cord are used to detect (find) atypical teratoid/rhabdoid tumor.

The following tests and procedures may be used:

Childhood atypical teratoid/rhabdoid tumor is diagnosed and may be removed in surgery.

If doctors think there might be a brain tumor, a biopsy may be done to remove a sample of tissue. For tumors in the brain, the biopsy is done by removing part of the skull and using a needle to remove a sample of tissue. A pathologist views the tissue under a microscope to look for cancer cells. If cancer cells are found, the doctor may remove as much tumor as safely possible during the same surgery. The pathologist checks the cancer cells to find out the type of brain tumor. It is often difficult to completely remove AT/RT because of where the tumor is in the brain and because it may already have spread at the time of diagnosis.

In order to tell the difference between AT/RT and other brain tumors, an immunohistochemistry study may be done on the sample of tissue that is removed. An immunohistochemistry study is a laboratory test in which a substance such as an antibody, dye, or radioisotope is added to a sample of cancer tissue to test for certain antigens.

Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.

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