Brain tumours in children: what should we be looking for?

This is a more serious topic than some, but so important. Early diagnosis and detection of a childhood brain tumour (and other types of cancer too) can really save a life. Please do have a read, just in case.

Typically, brain tumours in children are diagnosed later than a lot of other types of cancers. This is a particular problem in the UK, with brain tumours in children being picked up later than in their peers in other countries.

As a result, a campaign called HeadSmart (please visit to see what signs to look for in childhood brain tumours) was launched in the UK 2011 by the Brain Tumour Charity to try and close this gap.

Brain tumours form about a quarter of childhood cancers (along with spinal tumours), and often have different symptoms to some of the other childhood cancers.

So what should we be looking for?

1. Persistent of recurrent vomiting, especially in the morning

2. New or increasing problems with balance or coordination

3. Maybe a behaviour or personality change

4. Tiredness

5. Older children may complain of headaches, either persistent or frequently recurring.

6. Parents may notice unusual eye movements or a new squint

7. If your child complains of blurred or especially 'double vision (seeing two of things)

8. Any child that presents with a seizure (that was not linked to a high temperature)

9. Your child may hold their head in an unusual way or seem to have a stiff neck.

Sometimes, you may not be able to put your finger on it but may just know that something is not quite right.

Remember, do not panic. The chances are that your child's symptoms are not due to childhood cancer, and are not anything to worry about.

Always get these symptoms checked though because occasionally, they are due to a serious underlying problem such as a brain tumour. In these cases, early diagnosis and treatment is vital to ensure the best possible outcomes for your child.

All the research shows that the earlier these tumours are caught, the better the child usually does.

For more information about presentation of other forms of childhood cancer, read this article.


Dr Jennifer Kelly is a GP and founder of the Grace Kelly Ladybird Trust (for awareness and research into childhood cancers).