Brain Stem Tumor: Causes & Symptoms

Instructor: Alyssa Campbell

Alyssa is an active RN and teaches Nursing and Leadership university courses. She also has a Doctorate in Nursing Practice and a Master's in Business Administration.

Tumors that develop on the brain stem can lead to devastating symptoms like personality changes, difficulty walking, and hearing or sight impairment. Read this lesson to learn more about the effects of brain stem tumors and what may cause tumor growth.

Something Isn't Right

Joey, a twelve-year-old boy, is friendly and outgoing. He has a close group of friends that walk to school together every day. On his way out the door, he forgets his lunch and does not hear his mom call out for him.

When Joey returns from school, his mom notices that Joey appears to have difficulty hearing her. He is unusually quiet and is not engaged in conversation about his day. His mom becomes increasingly concerned when Joey appears to have difficulty picking up his fork at the dinner table.

She remembers these symptoms occurring when Joey was first diagnosed with a brain stem tumor, an abnormal growth inside the brain. Concerned, she makes an urgent appointment with Joey's doctor and they head to the office right away.

The Brain and Brain Stem

As the control center of the body, the brain accounts for all life-preserving functions as well as the personalities of individuals. The brain enables motor functions like walking, chewing and grasping as well as cognitive abilities like thinking, reasoning and emotion. Each part of the brain may control one or more functions of the human body.

The brain stem, a piece of brain tissue that connects the bulk of the brain with the spinal cord, consists of three main parts:

  • Midbrain: responsible for sight, hearing, movement
  • Medulla: maintains heart rate and breathing
  • Pons: regulates body movement and sensory perception

Location of the brain stem
Location of the brain stem

Because of the vital nature of the brain stem's three components, damage or tumor growth near this part of the brain can lead to devastating effects on an individual's quality of life.

Symptoms of a Brain Stem Tumor

Joey and his mom are managing his recovery from the first surgery to remove the brain stem tumor. Even though the surgery was successful, he remains at risk for development of another tumor. The physician sees Joey, and assesses him for the hallmark characteristics of a brain stem tumor:

  • Inability to swallow
  • Changes in vision or hearing, double vision
  • Difficulty walking, ataxia
  • Dysarthria, or garbled and incomprehensible speech
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Behavioral or personality changes
  • Generalized weakness
  • Presence of headaches

Causes of Tumor Development

After some diagnostic testing and a scan of his brain, the physician confirms that another tumor has developed on his brain stem. Devastated, Joey's mom wonders what could be causing the tumor to grow uncontrollably inside his brain.

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