Symptoms of childhood brain and spinal cord tumours

The signs or symptoms of childhood brain and spinal cord tumours may vary depending on where the tumour is in the brain, the size of the tumour, how fast the tumour is growing and the child’s age and development. The signs and symptoms are not the same in every child. Other health conditions can cause the same symptoms as childhood brain and spinal cord tumours.

The signs and symptoms of childhood brain tumours include:

  • headaches – often worse in the morning
  • nausea
  • vomiting – often occurs in the morning
  • seizures
  • changes in personality or behaviour
  • feeling irritated or losing interest in normal day-to-day things
  • vision problems, such as crossed eyes, double vision or blurred vision
  • feeling very sleepy or drowsy for no reason
  • change in activity level or feeling tired much quicker than usual
  • weakness or numbness on one side of the face or body
  • weakness or clumsiness, such as difficulty walking and balancing
  • trouble speaking or swallowing
  • difficulty hearing
  • early or delayed puberty
  • delayed or abnormal growth or development
  • decline in intellectual and motor abilities
  • increased head size in infants

The signs or symptoms of childhood spinal cord tumours include:

  • back pain or pain that spreads from the back to the arms and legs
  • changes in, or loss of, bowel or bladder control
  • weakness in the legs
  • trouble walking
  • weakness or paralysis on both sides of the body

Expert review and references

  • American Cancer Society. Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors in Children. 2016.
  • Central nervous system - childhood. American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). Cancer.Net. Alexandria, VA.: American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO); 2011.
  • Macmillan Cancer Support. Brain tumours in children. Macmillan Cancer Support; 2015.
  • National Cancer Institute. Childhood Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors Treatment Overview (PDQ). 2015.
  • Brain tumours. National Childhood Cancer Foundation & Children's Oncology Group. CureSearch. Bethesda, MD: 2006.
  • The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids). AboutKidsHealth: Signs and Symptoms of Brain Tumours. 2009:

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