6 Sep 2014

Brain tumours in children: symptoms and signs

It’s a shocking statistic: Brain tumours are now the UK’s leading killer of children older than one year of age.

Medical science has had huge successes with preventing other childhood diseases and curing common cancers in youngsters like acute lymphoid leukaemia.


But despite new therapies like proton beams some child brain cancers remain hard to treat. Based on survival statistics, more children die of brain tumours in the UK than elsewhere in Europe. The suspicion is, the health system in the UK is not good at spotting brain cancers and referring them to specialists early enough.

Around 450 children each year are diagnosed with a brain tumour according to child brain cancer campaign HeadSmart. That is sufficiently rare for most GPs to have only seen one or two cases in their career — and may go some way to explain why brain tumour patients might take longer than necessary to get referred to a specialist.

The simple approach taken by HeadSmart is to raise awareness of the signs of brain cancer for parents, and doctors.

Because some child brain cancers grow very quickly a diagnosis just a few weeks earlier can make a huge difference to a child’s prospects.


  • Persistent or recurrent vomiting
  • Problems with balance, walking or coordination
  • Unusual eye movements
  • Lethargy or other behaviour change
  • Fits and seizures
  • Abnormal head or neck position

(In older children):

  • Persistent or recurrent headaches
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Delayed or interrupted puberty

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