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Childhood Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors Treatment Overview (PDQ®)

Health Professional Version
Last Modified: 08/12/2014

Classification of Central Nervous System Tumors

The classification of childhood central nervous system (CNS) tumors is based on histology and location.[1] Tumors are classically categorized as infratentorial, supratentorial, parasellar, or spinal. Immunohistochemical analysis, cytogenetic and molecular genetic findings, and measures of proliferative activity are increasingly used in tumor diagnosis and classification and will likely affect classification and nomenclature in the future.

Primary CNS spinal cord tumors comprise approximately 1% to 2% of all childhood CNS tumors. The classification of spinal cord tumors is based on histopathologic characteristics of the tumor and does not differ from that of primary brain tumors.[1]

Infratentorial (posterior fossa) tumors include the following:

  1. Cerebellar astrocytomas (most commonly pilocytic, but also fibrillary and less frequently, high grade).
  2. Medulloblastomas (including classic, desmoplastic/nodular, extensive nodularity, anaplastic, or large cell variants).
  3. Ependymomas (cellular, papillary, clear cell, tanycytic, or anaplastic).
  4. Brain stem gliomas (typically diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas and focal, tectal, and exophytic cervicomedullary gliomas are most frequently pilocytic astrocytomas).
  5. Atypical teratoid/rhabdoid tumors.
  6. Choroid plexus tumors (papillomas and carcinomas).
  7. Rosette-forming glioneuronal tumors of the fourth ventricle.

Supratentorial tumors include the following:

  1. Low-grade cerebral hemispheric astrocytomas (grade I [pilocytic] astrocytomas or grade II [diffuse] astrocytomas).
  2. High-grade or malignant astrocytomas (anaplastic astrocytomas and glioblastoma [grade III or grade IV]).
  3. Mixed gliomas (low- or high-grade).
  4. Oligodendrogliomas (low- or high-grade).
  5. Primitive neuroectodermal tumors (PNETs) (cerebral neuroblastomas, pineoblastomas, and ependymoblastomas).
  6. Atypical teratoid/rhabdoid tumors.
  7. Ependymomas (cellular or anaplastic).
  8. Meningiomas (grades I, II, and III).
  9. Choroid plexus tumors (papillomas and carcinomas).
  10. Tumors of the pineal region (pineocytomas, pineoblastomas, pineal parenchymal tumors of intermediate differentiation, and papillary tumors of the pineal region), and germ cell tumors.
  11. Neuronal and mixed neuronal glial tumors (gangliogliomas, desmoplastic infantile astrocytoma/gangliogliomas, dysembryoplastic neuroepithelial tumors, and papillary glioneuronal tumors).
  12. Other low-grade gliomas (including subependymal giant cell tumors and pleomorphic xanthoastrocytoma).
  13. Metastasis (rare) from extraneural malignancies.

Parasellar tumors include the following:

  1. Craniopharyngiomas.
  2. Diencephalic astrocytomas (central tumors involving the chiasm, hypothalamus, and/or thalamus) that are generally low-grade (including astrocytomas, grade I [pilocytic] or grade II [diffuse]).
  3. Germ cell tumors (germinomas or nongerminomatous).

Spinal cord tumors include the following:

  1. Low-grade cerebral hemispheric astrocytomas (grade I [pilocytic] astrocytomas or grade II [diffuse] astrocytomas).
  2. High-grade or malignant astrocytomas (anaplastic astrocytomas and glioblastoma [grade III or grade IV]).
  3. Gangliogliomas.
  4. Ependymomas (often myxopapillary).
References
  1. Louis DN, Ohgaki H, Wiestler OD, et al., eds.: WHO Classification of Tumours of the Central Nervous System. 4th ed. Lyon, France: IARC Press, 2007.