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Brain Stem Gliomas tend to occur during childhood and adolescence although adult varieties are well known and sufficiently frequent in our Neurosurgical Practice to warrant special mention.


The most common initial presenting complaints are:
  • gait (walking) disturbance
  • headache
  • nausea/vomiting
  • double vision
  • facial weakness
  • trouble swallowing
  • hoarse voice
  • motor weakness
  • hydrocephalus


These tumors are primarily diagnosed by MRI scans.



Although treatment is usually non-surgical, there are some significant exceptions, such as in cases where there is an exophytic (extending outside the Brain Stem) component, a large cystic component within the Brain Stem or a small, discrete lesion that is close to a surface of the Brain Stem.

The direct surgical management of Brain Stem tumors is generally regarded as "controversial" by a majority of Neurological Surgeons with few having any real interest in attempting these operations. Any direct Neurosurgical Operation on these lesions requires considerable experience, judgment and meticulous Microsurgical Technique.

Figure 2: MRI Scan (Transaxial View Same patient as Figure 1)

This is an extensive Brain Stem tumor in a 38 year old female indicated by the Curved Arrow.

The tumor was surgically accessible through a Posterior Fossa Craniotomy in a plane along the Right lateral aspect of the 4th Ventricle (Arrow) without producing any additional neurological deficits. The tumor proved to be a highly malignant.

The 4th Ventricle (Horizontal Arrow) is only minimally displaced by the Tumor.

Radiation therapy and chemotherapy were effective in controlling the tumor for 5 years. Ultimately the patient succumbed to this dreadful lesion.

Figure 3: MRI Scan (Sagittal View - Gadolinium enhanced). Cystic Brainstem "Mixed Glioma" in a 41 year old lady with Neurofibromatosis. The Cystic (Curved Arrow) Brainstem lesion progressively enlarged resulting in severe Brainstem compression and neurological compromise.

Gadolinium "enhancing" infiltrating "Mixed Glioma" of the Brainstem and upper portion of the Cervical Spinal Cord (Horizontal Arrow.)

Figure 4: MRI Scan (Transaxial View) Cystic Brainstem "Mixed Glioma" (Same Patient as Figure 3).

Note the thin remnant of the severely compressed Brainstem (represented by the dark "crescent-shaped" structure) that remains Anteriorly and Laterally as if it was draped around the Cyst (Horizontal Arrow).

Figure 5: MRI Scan (Sagittal View) Post-operative study after excision of the posterior wall of the Cyst (Curved Arrow.)

COMPARE this to the pre-operative MRI in Figure 3.

Focused Beam Radiosurgery and Chemotherapy followed the surgical treatment.


Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is generally regarded as the primary treatment method for the majority of Brain Stem Tumors, particularly when incorporating Radiosurgery (Focused Beam Radiation) as the "delivery" system.


Modern Chemotherapy is the third arm of a comprehensive effort to prolong and maintain a high quality of life for these patients. While some traditional and common chemotherapeutic regimens remain in use, we favor the newer medications such as Temodar (temozolamide), Avastin (bevacizumab, an anti-angiogenesis agent) and CPT-11, either alone (or more commonly) in combination or with other drugs. These new regimens have been utilized to produce encouraging results by one of our Neuro-oncologists Additional information regarding these treatments is available at the "Virtual Trials" website.

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This page last edited on 2/19

All content ©2022 by Neurosurgical Consultants, P.A.
Author, Martin L. Lazar, MD, FACS
All Rights Reserved. See Usage Notices.