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The brain controls memory and learning, senses (hearing, sight, smell, taste, and touch), and emotion. It also controls other parts of the body, including muscles, organs, and blood vessels.
A brain tumor is an abnormal growth of tissue contained within the skull; it can be benign (without cancer cells) or malignant (contains cancer cells). Other than leukemia and lymphoma, malignant brain tumors are the type of cancer that occurs most commonly in children.
Cancer found in the brain often has started somewhere else in the body and has spread (metastasized) to the brain. This overview covers a type of tumor, cerebral astrocytoma, that starts in the brain (a primary brain tumor).
Astrocytomas are tumors that develop from brain cells called astrocytes. Cerebral astrocytomas occur in the area of the brain called the cerebrum, which is located at the top of the head and is considered to be the seat of conscious mental processes.
If your child has symptoms that may be caused by a brain tumor, his or her doctor may order a computed tomographic (CT) scan, a diagnostic test that uses computers and x-rays to create pictures of the body, or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, a diagnostic test similar to a CT scan using magnetic waves instead of x-rays.
Often, surgery is needed to determine whether there is a brain tumor and what type of tumor it is. The doctor may surgically remove a small sample of the tumor tissue and examine it under a microscope. This is called a biopsy. Sometimes a biopsy is done by making a small hole in the skull using a needle to extract a sample of the tumor.
A child's treatment and chance of recovery (prognosis) depend on the type and size of tumor, where it is located within the brain, and his or her age and general health.