Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Gliomas in children

9-minute read

Key facts

  • A glioma is a tumour that grows in the glial cells of the brain or spinal cord.
  • There are different types of gliomas.
  • There are several treatment options for gliomas in children.

What is a glioma?

A glioma is a tumour that grows in the glial cells of the brain and spinal cord. Glial cells surround nerve cells and help them work properly.

Gliomas can be benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). In children, they can grow in:

  • the cerebrum (the front part of the brain)
  • the cerebellum (the back part of the brain)
  • the brain stem (the part of the brain connected to the spinal cord)
  • the optic nerves (the nerves that control eyesight)

Types of gliomas

Gliomas can be slow-growing (called ‘low grade’) or aggressive (called ‘high grade’). If the tumour is Grade 1 or 2 it is low grade; if it is Grade 3 or 4 it is high grade.

There are different types of gliomas.


The terms ‘astrocytoma’ and ‘glioma’ are often used interchangeably. These can be high or low grade.

The different types of astrocytoma include:

  • juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma (JPA), the most common low-grade tumour in children, which usually grows in the back part of the brain
  • glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), a high-grade tumour that usually grows in the upper part of the brain
  • anaplastic astrocytoma, a high-grade tumour that usually grows in the upper part of the brain

Diffuse midline gliomas (DMG)

Diffuse midline gliomas include tumours previously called diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas (DIPGs).

These are tumours that grow in the brain stem, which controls heart rate and breathing.

Optic pathway gliomas

These are gliomas that grow in the optic nerve. The optic nerve connects the brain with the eyes.

What are the symptoms of glioma?

The symptoms of a glioma will depend on:

  • where the tumour is
  • how fast it is growing
  • the age of your child

Symptoms can be caused by the pressure of the growing tumour on the brain and include:

  • headaches, especially in the morning — the headache often goes away after vomiting
  • nausea or vomiting
  • problems with vision, hearing or speech
  • problems with balance and coordination, trouble walking
  • weakness or numbness in a part of the body, especially only on one side
  • back pain
  • changes in behaviour

Other symptoms can include:

  • weight loss or weight gain for no reason
  • seizures
  • drowsiness or coma

In babies, symptoms may include:

  • loss of appetite
  • developmental delays
  • losing physical or mental abilities they had before
  • swelling of the head
  • irritability
  • failure to thrive — where a child does not gain enough weight

Remember that all these symptoms can be due to other conditions and don’t necessarily mean your child has a glioma.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What causes glioma?

We don’t know why some children develop gliomas.

Gliomas are more common in children who:

  • have a family history of brain cancer
  • have been exposed to radiation
  • have some genetic conditions

When should I see my doctor?

If you are worried about your child’s symptoms, see your doctor.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

How is glioma diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask about your child’s symptoms and examine them.

If your doctor thinks that your child may have a glioma, your child will need medical tests. These may include:

If your child has a glioma, they will be looked after by a team of health professionals, known as a multidisciplinary team.

Specialists your child might see include:

  • paediatric oncologist (doctors who specialise in childhood cancer)
  • paediatric surgeon (doctors who specialise in operating in children)
  • neurologist (specialist in disease affecting the brain)
  • radiation oncologists (doctors who specialise in using radiotherapy to treat cancer)
  • endocrinologist (doctors who specialise in hormones and body development)
  • nurses who specialise in caring for children with cancer

Other healthcare professionals your child might see include:

  • your child’s regular doctor
  • social workers
  • rehabilitation therapists
  • psychologists
  • cancer care coordinators
  • physiotherapists
  • speech therapists

How is glioma treated?

Your child’s treatment will depend on:

  • their age
  • the type of glioma
  • where the glioma is in the brain or spinal cord
  • how quickly the glioma is growing
  • how your child reacts to the treatment

Your doctor will suggest treatment options based on your child’s situation. Most children have a mix of treatments. Treatment can last for several years.

Treatment options include the following.


Surgical treatment will attempt to remove as much of the glioma as possible. Surgery might not always be possible, for example if the tumour is in a very delicate part of the brain like the brain stem, or if the tumour has spread to other brain tissue.

Surgery might be the only treatment needed, especially if it is a slow growing (low-grade) tumour.

Radiotherapy and chemotherapy

Radiotherapy (radiation treatment) and chemotherapy (cancer medicine) can shrink the tumour. Radiotherapy is not usually suitable for children aged under 3 years.

New treatments

There have been many advances in treating brain cancer recently.

Some places in Australia now offer advanced radiotherapy techniques such as:

  • radiosurgery
  • gamma knife
  • proton beam therapy
  • precise surgery techniques, such as cyberknife therapy

There are also targeted therapies that attack cancer cells without harming healthy cells.

Your child might also be able to take part in a clinical trial, giving them access to new medicines.

Other treatments

Your child might receive other medicines, such as:

  • steroids, to reduce swelling and improve symptoms
  • hormones, if the treatment has affected their hormone balance
  • medicines to stop seizures or give pain relief

After treatment finishes, your child will need regular check-ups and scans. Gliomas can come back again. If this happens, the medical team might suggest different treatments.

Can glioma be prevented?

We don’t completely understand what causes some brain tumours in children. However, if a child develops cancer, it’s not because of something they, or their parents did to cause it. No one is to blame if a child develops cancer.

Complications of a glioma

Due to advances in treatment of children’s cancer, many children survive into adulthood. Talk to your doctor about your child’s diagnosis and prognosis (long-term survival).

Your child’s prognosis will depend on:

  • their age at diagnosis
  • the type of glioma they have
  • where the tumour is and whether it is slow or fast growing
  • how the glioma responds to treatment

Resources and support

For more information on gliomas in children and for support, try the following resources.

Information about childhood cancer

Cancer Australia has information on children’s cancer and links to support organisations for children with cancer and their families.

Cancer Council also has information on childhood cancers.

Camp Quality's Kids’ Guide to Cancer app provides age-appropriate cancer education for kids up to 15 years old.

Camp Quality's New Normal Navigator app provides support to mums, dads and carers.

Family and financial support

Canteen's and Camp Quality's online community Parenting through cancer provides free expert advice, counselling and a chance to connect with other parents in similar situations.

The Children’s Cancer Foundation provides family support and information about the latest treatments.

Kids with Cancer Foundation Australia provides financial assistance to children with cancer and their families.

Brain Tumour Alliance Australia has a support line (1800 857 221) and offers multi-cultural support.

Redkite is a national organisation that provides emotional support, financial assistance, information and resources to families who have a child with cancer.

You can also call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2023

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Brain tumours - gliomas - Better Health Channel

Gliomas are brain tumours associated with the three types of glial cell in the brain.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Rare Cancers Australia - Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG)

Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) is a highly aggressive brain tumour and is difficult to treat.

Read more on Rare Cancers Australia website

High-grade glioma | Guide to best cancer care | Cancer Council

Access our high grade glioma cancer guide to help you with what questions to ask your health professionals to make sure you receive the best care

Read more on Cancer Council Australia website

Rare Cancers Australia - Astrocytic tumours of cranial and peripheral nerves, autonomic nervous system 

Astrocytomas belong to a group of tumours called gliomas. They can start in different parts of the brain and sometimes in the spinal cord.

Read more on Rare Cancers Australia website

Brain and other central nervous system tumours | Cancer Australia Childrens Cancers

Information on tumours that start in the brain or other parts of the central nervous system (CNS)

Read more on Cancer Australia website

Brain Tumour / Cancer - Brain Foundation

Description There are numerous types of brain tumours and they all behave differently and so require different combinations of treatment

Read more on Brain Foundation website

Brain cancer | Causes, Symptoms & Treatments | Cancer Council

What is brain cancer? Find out about the symptoms, causes, treatment options and more. Get the facts from Cancer Council here

Read more on Cancer Council Australia website

Brain Tumours Types & Symptoms - Cancer Council Victoria

Understand more about brain tumours including the different types, how common it is, risk factors & symptoms.

Read more on Cancer Council Victoria website

Brain Cancer Treatment - Targeting Cancer

Learn more about brain cancer, the symptoms, different treatments available, including radiation therapy, and the side effects of these treatments.

Read more on Radiation Oncology Targeting Cancer website

Brain cancer | NT.GOV.AU

Early detection, symptoms and treatment for brain tumours.

Read more on NT Health website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Queensland Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.