Types of Brain Stem Tumors

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.

Brain stem tumors, also referred to as gliomas, may develop at different parts of the brain stem and cause a variety of impairments. Read this lesson to learn about the different types of brain stem tumors, their symptoms, and common methods of treatment.

Impact of a Brain Stem Tumor

Taylor is a new nurse working on a medical-surgical unit at a large hospital in the city. Her unit specializes in patients with neurological dysfunction, and she cares for people with injury, tumors, and other debilitating conditions of the brain.

During her second week on the job, Taylor makes a special connection with one of her patients that reminds her of a close relative. Eager to provide the best care possible, she looks to her mentor to learn more about the patient's diagnosis: a brain stem tumor.

What Is a Brain Stem Tumor?

Anatomy of the brain stem
Anatomy of the Brain Stem

A brain stem tumor, an uncontrolled growth of a mass located on the brain stem, sits at the base of the brain. The brain stem connects the spine with the brain and is responsible for many vital functions. Taylor learns that the brain stem regulates many motor functions, such as coordination, walking, and speech. It also plays a large part in cognitive functions, or the alertness, ability to reason, decision-making, behaviors, and personality of an individual.

Types of Brain Stem Tumors

A large part of providing care to patients with brain stem tumors is to understand what type of tumor, or glioma, they have. At the suggestion of her mentor, Taylor spends some time researching various brain stem gliomas and implications associated with each type.

Diffuse

Rare but deadly, the diffuse brain stem glioma (DIBG) begins at the brain stem. Over time, the tumor develops tentacles or branches that dig deep into the brain tissue, making it very difficult or impossible to remove surgically. This type of tumor growth impacts cranial nerves causing difficulty with coordination, sensory impairments, and weakness that develops rather quickly. Radiation, a treatment using the emission of energy to destroy cancer cells, is likely to be recommended to slow tumor growth. While radiation can offer extension of lifespan, it is not a means of long-term management or cure for diffuse brain stem tumors.

Cervicomedullary Tumors

Cervicomedullary tumors grow where the brain stem meets the spinal cord at the very base of the brain. Generally, this type of tumor develops slowly over time creating mild to moderate effects on the individual. People suffering with cervicomedullary tumors will gradually develop symptoms such as headaches, speech impairments, and difficulty swallowing.

Because some cervicomedullary tumors are exophytic, or round and shaped like a ball, they may be effectively removed through surgery. A combination of surgery and radiation is shown to improve the quality of life and long-term survival.

Tectal Gliomas

Tectal tumors grow very slowly at the top of the brain stem. Dysarthria (difficulty talking), visual impairment, and headaches or nausea caused by increased pressure in the brain are common symptoms of tectal tumors. Shunting, or manually diverting fluid from the brain, is a common treatment. Surgical removal of the lesion is typically successful, yet still remains dangerous because of the vital nature of the brain stem itself. Recovery and long-term survival for those who seek treatment for tectal gliomas are common.

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