Skip to Content
Home > Wellness > Health Library > Childhood Central Nervous System Embryonal Tumors Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Patient Information [NCI]
This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http://cancer.gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.
Central nervous system embryonal tumors may begin in embryonic (fetal) cells that remain in the brain after birth.
Central nervous system (CNS) embryonal tumors form in embryonic cells that remain in the brain after birth. CNS embryonal tumors tend to spread through the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to other parts of the brain and spinal cord.
The tumors may be malignant (cancer) or benign (not cancer). Most CNS embryonal tumors in children are malignant. Malignant brain tumors are likely to grow quickly and spread into other parts of the brain. When a tumor grows into or presses on an area of the brain, it may stop that part of the brain from working the way it should. Benign brain tumors grow and press on nearby areas of the brain. They rarely spread to other parts of the brain. Both benign and malignant brain tumors can cause symptoms and need treatment.
Although cancer is rare in children, brain tumors are the third most common type of childhood cancer, after leukemia and lymphoma. This summary is about the treatment of primary brain tumors (tumors that begin in the brain). The treatment of metastatic brain tumors, which begin in other parts of the body and spread to the brain, is not discussed in this summary. For information about the different types of brain and spinal cord tumors, see the PDQ summary on Childhood Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors Treatment Overview.
Brain tumors occur in both children and adults. Treatment for adults may be different from treatment for children. See the PDQ treatment summary on Adult Brain Tumors for more information on the treatment of adults.
There are different types of CNS embryonal tumors.
Anatomy of the inside of the brain, showing the pineal and pituitary glands, optic nerve, ventricles (with cerebrospinal fluid shown in blue), and other parts of the brain.
The different types of CNS embryonal tumors include:
Most CNS embryonal tumors are medulloblastomas. Medulloblastomas are fast-growing tumors that form in brain cells in the cerebellum. The cerebellum is at the lower back part of the brain between the cerebrum and the brain stem. The cerebellum controls movement, balance, and posture. Medulloblastomas sometimes spread to the bone, bone marrow, lung, or other parts of the body, but this is rare.
Central nervous system primitive neuroectodermal tumors (CNS PNETs) are fast-growing tumors that usually form in brain cells in the cerebrum. The cerebrum is at the top of the head and is the largest part of the brain. The cerebrum controls thinking, learning, problem-solving, emotions, speech, reading, writing, and voluntary movement. CNS PNETs may also form in the brain stem or spinal cord.
There are four types of CNS PNETs:
CNS neuroblastomas are a very rare type of neuroblastoma that form in the nerve tissue of the cerebrum or the layers of tissue that cover the brain and spinal cord. CNS neuroblastomas may be large and spread to other parts of the brain or spinal cord.
CNS ganglioneuroblastomas are rare tumors that form in nerve tissue of the brain and spinal cord. They may form in one area and be fast growing or form in more than one area and be slow growing.
Medulloepitheliomas are fast-growing tumors that form in brain cells that line tubelike spaces in the brain and spinal cord.
Ependymoblastomas are fast-growing tumors that form in brain cells lining the fluid -filled spaces in the brain and spinal cord. They often form near the tailbone.
Childhood CNS atypical teratoid/rhabdoid tumor is also a type of embryonal tumor, but it is treated differently than other childhood CNS embryonal tumors. See the PDQ summary on Childhood Central Nervous System Atypical Teratoid/Rhabdoid Tumor Treatment for more information.
Pineoblastomas form in cells of the pineal gland.
The pineal gland is a tiny organ in the center of the brain. The gland makes melatonin, a substance that helps control our sleep cycle.
Pineoblastomas form in cells of the pineal gland and are usually malignant. Pineoblastomas are fast-growing tumors with cells that look very different from normal pineal gland cells. Pineoblastomas are not a type of CNS embryonal tumor but treatment for them is a lot like treatment for CNS embryonal tumors.
Certain genetic conditions increase the risk of childhood CNS embryonal tumors.
Anything that increases the risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your child's doctor if you think your child may be at risk.
Risk factors for CNS embryonal tumors include having the following inherited diseases:
In most cases, the cause of CNS embryonal tumors is not known.
Signs and symptoms of childhood CNS embryonal tumors or pineoblastomas depend on the child's age and where the tumor is.
These and other signs and symptoms may be caused by childhood CNS embryonal tumors, pineoblastomas, or by other conditions. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:
Infants and young children with these tumors may be irritable or grow slowly. Also they may not eat well or meet developmental milestones such as sitting, walking, and talking in sentences.
Tests that examine the brain and spinal cord are used to detect (find) childhood CNS embryonal tumors or pineoblastomas.
The following tests and procedures may be used:
A biopsy may be done to be sure of the diagnosis of CNS embryonal tumor or pineoblastoma.
If doctors think your child may have a CNS embryonal tumor or pineoblastoma, a biopsy may be done. For brain tumors, the biopsy is done by removing part of the skull and using a needle to remove a sample of tissue. Sometimes, a computer-guided needle is used to remove the tissue sample. A pathologist views the tissue under a microscope to look for cancer cells. If cancer cells are found, the doctor may remove as much tumor as safely possible during the same surgery. The piece of skull is usually put back in place after the procedure.
Craniotomy: An opening is made in the skull and a piece of the skull is removed to show part of the brain.
The following tests may be done on the sample of tissue that is removed:
Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.
The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on:
Treatment of childhood CNS embryonal tumors and pineoblastomas depends on the type of tumor and the child's age.
Staging is the process used to find out how much cancer there is and if cancer has spread. It is important to know the stage in order to plan treatment.
There is no standard staging system for childhood central nervous system (CNS) embryonal tumors and pineoblastomas. Instead, treatment depends on the type of tumor and the child's age (3 years and younger or older than 3 years).
Treatment of medulloblastoma in children older than 3 years also depends on whether the tumor is average risk or high risk.
Average risk (child is older than 3 years of age)
Medulloblastomas are called average risk when all of the following are true:
High risk (child is older than 3 years of age)
Medulloblastomas are called high risk if any of the following are true:
In general, cancer is more likely to recur (come back) in patients with a high-risk tumor.
The information from tests and procedures done to detect (find) childhood CNS embryonal tumors or pineoblastomas is used to plan cancer treatment.
Some of the tests used to detect childhood CNS embryonal tumors or pineoblastomas are repeated after surgery to remove the tumor. (See the General Information section.) This is to find out how much tumor remains after surgery.
Other tests and procedures may be done to find out if the cancer has spread:
A recurrent childhood central nervous system (CNS) embryonal tumor is a tumor that recurs (comes back) after being treated. Childhood CNS embryonal tumors most often recur within 3 years after treatment but may come back many years later. Recurrent childhood CNS embryonal tumors may come back in the same place as the original tumor and/ or in a different place in the brain or spinal cord. CNS embryonal tumors rarely spread to other parts of the body.
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with recurrent childhood brain tumor. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
There are different types of treatment for children who have CNS embryonal tumors.
Different types of treatment are available for children with central nervous system (CNS) embryonal tumors. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment.
Because cancer in children is rare, taking part in a clinical trial should be considered. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.
Children who have CNS embryonal tumors should have their treatment planned by a team of health care providers who are experts in treating brain tumors in children.
Treatment will be overseen by a pediatric oncologist, a doctor who specializes in treating children with cancer. The pediatric oncologist works with other pediatric health care providers who are experts in treating children with brain tumors and who specialize in certain areas of medicine. These may include the following specialists:
Childhood brain tumors may cause signs and symptoms that begin before diagnosis and continue for months or years.
Signs and symptoms caused by the tumor may begin before diagnosis and continue for months or years. It is important to talk with your child's doctors about signs and symptoms caused by the tumor that may continue after treatment.
Some cancer treatments cause side effects months or years after treatment has ended.
Side effects from cancer treatment that begin during or after treatment and continue for months or years are called late effects. Late effects of cancer treatment may include the following:
Children diagnosed with medulloblastoma may have certain problems after surgery or radiation therapy such as changes in the ability to think, learn, and pay attention. Also, cerebellar mutism syndrome may occur after surgery. Signs of this syndrome include the following:
Some late effects may be treated or controlled. It is important to talk with your child's doctors about the effects cancer treatment can have on your child. (See the PDQ summary on Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Cancer for more information).
Four types of standard treatment are used:
Surgery is used to diagnose and treat a childhood CNS embryonal tumor as described in the General Information section of this summary.
Even if the doctor removes all the cancer that can be seen at the time of the surgery, some patients may be given chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy after surgery to kill any cancer cells that are left. Treatment given after the surgery, to lower the risk that the cancer will come back, is called adjuvant therapy.
Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer.
Radiation therapy to the brain can affect growth and development in young children. For this reason, clinical trials are studying new ways of giving radiation that may have fewer side effects than standard methods. For childhood CNS embryonal tumors, radiation therapy may be given in the following ways:
The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type of cancer being treated.
Because radiation therapy can affect growth and brain development in young children, especially children who are three years old or younger, chemotherapy may be given to delay or reduce the need for radiation therapy.
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). Combination chemotherapy is treatment using more than one anticancer drug. The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type of cancer being treated.
Regular dose anticancer drugs given by mouth or vein to treat central nervous system tumors cannot cross the blood-brain barrier and enter the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. Instead, an anticancer drug is injected into the fluid-filled space to kill cancer cells that may have spread there. This is called intrathecal or intraventricular chemotherapy.Intrathecal chemotherapy. Anticancer drugs are injected into the intrathecal space, which is the space that holds the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF, shown in blue). There are two different ways to do this. One way, shown in the top part of the figure, is to inject the drugs into an Ommaya reservoir (a dome-shaped container that is placed under the scalp during surgery; it holds the drugs as they flow through a small tube into the brain). The other way, shown in the bottom part of the figure, is to inject the drugs directly into the CSF in the lower part of the spinal column, after a small area on the lower back is numbed.
High-dose chemotherapy with stem cell rescue
High-dose chemotherapy with stem cell rescue is a way of giving high doses of chemotherapy and replacing blood -forming cells destroyed by the cancer treatment. Stem cells (immature blood cells) are removed from the blood or bone marrow of the patient or a donor and are frozen and stored. After the chemotherapy is completed, the stored stem cells are thawed and given back to the patient through an infusion. These reinfused stem cells grow into (and restore) the body's blood cells.
New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.
This summary section describes treatments that are being studied in clinical trials. It may not mention every new treatment being studied. Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
Targeted therapy uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific cancer cells without harming normal cells. Signal transduction inhibitor therapy is a type of targeted therapy being studied in the treatment of recurrent childhood medulloblastoma. Signal transduction inhibitors block signals that are passed from one molecule to another inside a cell. Blocking these signals may kill cancer cells.
Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.
For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.
Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.
Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.
Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.
Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.
Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. See the Treatment Options section that follows for links to current treatment clinical trials. These have been retrieved from NCI's listing of clinical trials.
Follow-up tests may be needed.
Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. (See the General Information section for a list of tests.) Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests. This is sometimes called re-staging.
Some of the imaging tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your child's condition has changed or if the brain tumor has recurred (come back). If the imaging tests show abnormal tissue in the brain, a biopsy may also be done to find out if the tissue is made up of dead tumor cells or if new cancer cells are growing. These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.
A link to a list of current clinical trials is included for each treatment section. For some types or stages of cancer, there may not be any trials listed. Check with your child's doctor for clinical trials that are not listed here but may be right for your child.
Newly Diagnosed Childhood Medulloblastoma
In newly diagnosed childhood medulloblastoma, the tumor itself has not been treated. The child may have received drugs or treatment to relieve symptoms caused by the tumor.
Children older than 3 years with average-risk medulloblastoma
Standard treatment of average-risk medulloblastoma in children older than 3 years includes the following:
Children older than 3 years with high-risk medulloblastoma
Standard treatment of high-risk medulloblastoma in children older than 3 years includes the following:
Children aged 3 years and younger
Standard treatment of medulloblastoma in children aged 3 years and younger is:
Other treatments that may be given after surgery include the following:
Treatment of medulloblastoma in children aged 3 years and younger is often within a clinical trial. Clinical trials are studying new combinations and schedules of chemotherapy with or without stem cell rescue.
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with untreated childhood medulloblastoma. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
Newly Diagnosed Childhood Central Nervous System Primitive Neuroectodermal Tumors
In newly diagnosed childhood central nervous system (CNS) primitive neuroectodermal tumors, the tumor itself has not been treated. The child may have received drugs or treatment to relieve symptoms caused by the tumor.
Children older than 3 years
Standard treatment of CNS primitive neuroectodermal tumors in children older than 3 years is:
Standard treatment of CNS primitive neuroectodermal tumors in children aged 3 years and younger is:
Treatment of CNS primitive neuroectodermal tumors in children aged 3 years and younger is often within a clinical trial. Clinical trials are studying new combinations of chemotherapy with stem cell rescue.
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with untreated childhood supratentorial primitive neuroectodermal tumor. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
Newly Diagnosed Childhood Medulloepithelioma and Ependymoblastoma
In newly diagnosed childhood medulloepithelioma and ependymoblastoma, the tumor itself has not been treated. The child may have received drugs or treatment to relieve symptoms caused by the tumor.
Standard treatment of medulloepithelioma and ependymoblastoma in children older than 3 years includes the following:
Standard treatment of medulloepithelioma and ependymoblastoma in children aged 3 years and younger includes the following:
Treatment of medulloepithelioma and ependymoblastoma in children aged 3 years and younger is often within a clinical trial.
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with childhood ependymoblastoma and childhood medulloepithelioma. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
Newly Diagnosed Childhood Pineoblastoma
In newly diagnosed childhood pineoblastoma, the tumor itself has not been treated. The child may have received drugs or treatment to relieve symptoms caused by the tumor.
Standard treatment of pineoblastoma in children older than 3 years includes the following:
Standard treatment of pineoblastoma in children aged 3 years and younger includes the following:
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with untreated childhood pineoblastoma. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
Recurrent Childhood Central Nervous System Embryonal Tumors and Pineoblastomas
The treatment of CNS embryonal tumors and pineoblastoma that recur (come back) depends on:
Treatment for recurrent childhood CNS embryonal tumors and pineoblastomas may include the following:
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with recurrent childhood central nervous system embryonal tumor. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
For more information about childhood central nervous system embryonal tumor, see the following:
For more childhood cancer information and other general cancer resources, see the following:
The PDQ cancer information summaries are reviewed regularly and updated as new information becomes available. This section describes the latest changes made to this summary as of the date above.
Changes were made to this summary to match those made to the health professional version.
Physician Data Query (PDQ) is the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) comprehensive cancer information database. The PDQ database contains summaries of the latest published information on cancer prevention, detection, genetics, treatment, supportive care, and complementary and alternative medicine. Most summaries come in two versions. The health professional versions have detailed information written in technical language. The patient versions are written in easy-to-understand, nontechnical language. Both versions have cancer information that is accurate and up to date and most versions are also available in Spanish.
PDQ is a service of the NCI. The NCI is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH is the federal government's center of biomedical research. The PDQ summaries are based on an independent review of the medical literature. They are not policy statements of the NCI or the NIH.
Purpose of This Summary
This PDQ cancer information summary has current information about the treatment of childhood central nervous system embryonal tumors. It is meant to inform and help patients, families, and caregivers. It does not give formal guidelines or recommendations for making decisions about health care.
Reviewers and Updates
Editorial Boards write the PDQ cancer information summaries and keep them up to date. These Boards are made up of experts in cancer treatment and other specialties related to cancer. The summaries are reviewed regularly and changes are made when there is new information. The date on each summary ("Date Last Modified") is the date of the most recent change.
The information in this patient summary was taken from the health professional version, which is reviewed regularly and updated as needed, by the PDQ Pediatric Treatment Editorial Board.
Clinical Trial Information
A clinical trial is a study to answer a scientific question, such as whether one treatment is better than another. Trials are based on past studies and what has been learned in the laboratory. Each trial answers certain scientific questions in order to find new and better ways to help cancer patients. During treatment clinical trials, information is collected about the effects of a new treatment and how well it works. If a clinical trial shows that a new treatment is better than one currently being used, the new treatment may become "standard." Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.
Clinical trials are listed in PDQ and can be found online at NCI's Web site. Many cancer doctors who take part in clinical trials are also listed in PDQ. For more information, call the Cancer Information Service 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).
Permission to Use This Summary
PDQ is a registered trademark. The content of PDQ documents can be used freely as text. It cannot be identified as an NCI PDQ cancer information summary unless the whole summary is shown and it is updated regularly. However, a user would be allowed to write a sentence such as "NCI's PDQ cancer information summary about breast cancer prevention states the risks in the following way: [include excerpt from the summary]."
The best way to cite this PDQ summary is:
National Cancer Institute: PDQ® Childhood Central Nervous System Embryonal Tumors Treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Date last modified <MM/DD/YYYY>. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/childCNSembryonal/patient. Accessed <MM/DD/YYYY>.
Images in this summary are used with permission of the author(s), artist, and/or publisher for use in the PDQ summaries only. If you want to use an image from a PDQ summary and you are not using the whole summary, you must get permission from the owner. It cannot be given by the National Cancer Institute. Information about using the images in this summary, along with many other images related to cancer can be found in Visuals Online. Visuals Online is a collection of more than 2,000 scientific images.
The information in these summaries should not be used to make decisions about insurance reimbursement. More information on insurance coverage is available on Cancer.gov on the Coping with Cancer: Financial, Insurance, and Legal Information page.
More information about contacting us or receiving help with the Cancer.gov Web site can be found on our Contact Us for Help page. Questions can also be submitted to Cancer.gov through the Web site's Contact Form.
For more information, U.S. residents may call the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) Cancer Information Service toll-free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Eastern Time. A trained Cancer Information Specialist is available to answer your questions.
The NCI's LiveHelp® online chat service provides Internet users with the ability to chat online with an Information Specialist. The service is available from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday. Information Specialists can help Internet users find information on NCI Web sites and answer questions about cancer.
Write to us
For more information from the NCI, please write to this address:
Search the NCI Web site
The NCI Web site provides online access to information on cancer, clinical trials, and other Web sites and organizations that offer support and resources for cancer patients and their families. For a quick search, use the search box in the upper right corner of each Web page. The results for a wide range of search terms will include a list of "Best Bets," editorially chosen Web pages that are most closely related to the search term entered.
There are also many other places to get materials and information about cancer treatment and services. Hospitals in your area may have information about local and regional agencies that have information on finances, getting to and from treatment, receiving care at home, and dealing with problems related to cancer treatment.
The NCI has booklets and other materials for patients, health professionals, and the public. These publications discuss types of cancer, methods of cancer treatment, coping with cancer, and clinical trials. Some publications provide information on tests for cancer, cancer causes and prevention, cancer statistics, and NCI research activities. NCI materials on these and other topics may be ordered online or printed directly from the NCI Publications Locator. These materials can also be ordered by telephone from the Cancer Information Service toll-free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).
Last Revised: 2013-08-15
If you want to know more about cancer and how it is treated, or if you wish to know about clinical trials for your type of cancer, you can call the NCI's Cancer Information Service at 1-800-422-6237, toll free. A trained information specialist can talk with you and answer your questions.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.
Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
250 Pleasant Street
Concord, NH 03301
Contact Concord Hospital
View Quality Data
© 2014 Concord Hospital