Childhood brain tumors: current management, biological insights, and future directions

J Neurosurg Pediatr. 2019 Mar 1;23(3):261-273. doi: 10.3171/2018.10.PEDS18377.


Brain tumors are the most common solid tumors in children, and, unfortunately, many subtypes continue to have a suboptimal long-term outcome. During the last several years, however, remarkable advances in our understanding of the molecular underpinnings of these tumors have occurred as a result of high-resolution genomic, epigenetic, and transcriptomic profiling, which have provided insights for improved tumor categorization and molecularly directed therapies. While tumors such as medulloblastomas have been historically grouped into standard- and high-risk categories, it is now recognized that these tumors encompass four or more molecular subsets with distinct clinical and molecular characteristics. Likewise, high-grade glioma, which for decades was considered a single high-risk entity, is now known to comprise multiple subsets of tumors that differ in terms of patient age, tumor location, and prognosis. The situation is even more complex for ependymoma, for which at least nine subsets of tumors have been described. Conversely, the majority of pilocytic astrocytomas appear to result from genetic changes that alter a single, therapeutically targetable molecular pathway. Accordingly, the present era is one in which treatment is evolving from the historical standard of radiation and conventional chemotherapy to a more nuanced approach in which these modalities are applied in a risk-adapted framework and molecularly targeted therapies are implemented to augment or, in some cases, replace conventional therapy. Herein, the authors review advances in the categorization and treatment of several of the more common pediatric brain tumors and discuss current and future directions in tumor management that hold significant promise for patients with these challenging tumors.

Keywords: COG = Children’s Oncology Group; DIPG = diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma; GTR = gross-total resection; HGG = high-grade glioma; LGG = low-grade glioma; MAPK = mitogen-activated protein kinase; NF1 = neurofibromatosis type 1; NTR = near-total resection; PBTC = Pediatric Brain Tumor Consortium; PFS = progression-free survival; RT = radiation therapy; SHH = Sonic Hedgehog; SIOP = International Society of Paediatric Oncology; WHO = World Health Organization; WNT = Wingless/Integrated; astrocytoma; brain tumor; ependymoma; genomics; medulloblastoma; oncology; targeted therapy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Brain Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Brain Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Brain Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Disease Management*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prognosis


  • Antineoplastic Agents