Survival statistics for childhood brain and spinal cord tumours

Survival statistics for childhood brain and spinal cord tumours are very general estimates and must be interpreted very carefully. These statistics are based on the experience of groups of children and cannot be used to predict a particular child’s chances of survival.

There are many different ways to measure and report cancer survival statistics. Your child’s doctor can explain the statistics for childhood brain and spinal cord tumours and what they mean for your child.

Observed survival

Observed survival is also called overall survival. It is the percentage of children with a certain type of cancer who are expected to live for at least a specified period of time after their diagnosis. Doctors often use the observed survival rate when they talk about a prognosis.

The 5-year observed survival for brain and spinal cord tumours in children 0 to 14 years of age is 72%. This means that, on average, 72% of children diagnosed with brain or spinal cord tumours are expected to live at least 5 years after their diagnosis.

Observed survival does not consider the cause of death. But of the 28% of children who don’t survive 5 years, most die from the cancer rather than from other causes.

Survival by type

Survival varies with each type of childhood brain or spinal cord tumour. Depending on the tumour type, survival can also vary by grade or risk group.

Generally, the lower the grade of the tumour, the better the outcome. Some types of tumours have a better prognosis than others.

There are no specific Canadian statistics available for the different types of brain and spinal cord tumours in children. The Central Brain Tumor Registry of the United States (CBTRUS) provides survival statistics for more common types of childhood brain and spinal cord tumours. They are based on children aged 19 and younger.

Type of childhood brain or spinal cord tumour

5-year observed survival

pilocytic astrocytoma

95%

fibrillary (diffuse) astrocytoma

80%–85%

anaplastic astrocytoma

30%

glioblastoma

20%

ependymoma

75%

medulloblastoma

60%–65%

craniopharyngioma

90%

Questions about survival

Talk to your child’s doctor about their prognosis. A prognosis depends on many factors, including:

  • the child’s medical history
  • the type of cancer
  • the stage
  • certain characteristics of the cancer
  • the treatments chosen
  • how the cancer responds to treatment

Only a doctor familiar with these factors can put all of this information together with survival statistics to arrive at a prognosis.

Expert review and references

  • American Cancer Society. Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors in Children. 2016.
  • Brain tumours. B.C. Children's Hospital Oncology/Hematology/BMT Program. B.C. Children's Hospital. Vancouver, B.C.: B. C. Children's Hospital; 2003.
  • Canadian Cancer Statistics Advisory Committee. Canadian Cancer Statistics 2019 . Toronto, ON : Canadian Cancer Society; 2019: https://www.cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-101/canadian-cancer-statistics/past-editions-canadian-cancer-statistics/.
  • Ellison LF, Prithwish D, Mery LS, et al . Canadian cancer statistics at a glance: cancer in children. CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal). Reviewed ed. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association (CMA); 2009.
  • Cancer fact sheet: childhood cancers. National Cancer Institute. Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER). Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute;
  • Patel, R., Dollinger, M. and Greenberg, M . Childhood cancer: Brain tumours. Ko, A. H., Dollinger, M., & Rosenbaum, E. Everyone's Guide to Cancer Therapy: How Cancer is Diagnosed, Treated and Managed Day to Day. 5th ed. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Publishing; 2008: 549-556.