Background: Brain stem tumors in children have been classified pathologically as low grade or high grade gliomas and descriptively as diffuse gliomas, intrinsic gliomas, midbrain tumors, tectal gliomas, pencil gliomas, dorsal exophytic brain stem tumors, pontine gliomas, focal medullary tumors, cervicomedullary tumors, focal gliomas, or cystic gliomas.
Methods: To search for a simplified and prognostic clinicopathologic scheme for brain stem tumors, the authors reviewed a consecutive cohort of patients younger than age 21 years with tumors diagnosed from 1980 through 1997. Pathology specimens and neuroimaging were classified by masked review. Statistical and survival analysis along with Cox proportional hazards regression was performed.
Results: Seventy-six patients were identified, with initial diagnostic magnetic resonance imaging available for 51 and pathology specimens for 48 patients. Twenty cases were classified histologically as pilocytic astrocytoma (PA), 14 as fibrillary astrocytoma (FA), and 14 as other tumors or indeterminate pathology. For all tumors, characteristics significantly associated with a worse survival rate were: symptom duration less than 6 months before diagnosis (P = 0.004); abducens palsy at presentation (P < 0.0001); pontine location (P = 0.0002); and engulfment of the basilar artery (P = 0.006). Pilocytic astrocytoma was associated with location outside the ventral pons (P = 0.001) and dorsal exophytic growth (P = 0.013); Fibrillary astrocytoma was associated with symptoms less than 6 months (P = 0. 006), abducens palsy (P < 0.001), and engulfment of the basilar artery (P = 0.002). Pilocytic astrocytoma showed 5-year overall survival (OS) of 95% (standard error [SE], 5%) compared with FA 1-year OS of 23% (SE, 11%;P < 0.0001).
Conclusions: Brain stem tumors can be succinctly and better biologically classified as diffusely infiltrative brain stem gliomas-generally FA located in the ventral pons that present with abducens palsy, often engulf the basilar artery, and carry a grim prognosis-and focal brain stem gliomas-frequently PA arising outside the ventral pons, often with dorsal exophytic growth, a long clinical prodrome, and outstanding prognosis for survival. Our findings emphasize the individuality of PA as a distinct clinicopathologic entity with an exceptional prognosis.