Symptoms & Causes

What causes ependymoma and who does it affect?

Like other brain or spinal cord tumors, what causes ependymoma is not known. Although relatively uncommon, the disease occurs within any age group. Tumors of the posterior fossa (back part of the brain) are much more common among the pediatric population, and spinal cord tumors are more common in young to middle-age adults.

Anaplastic ependymomas are more common in adults. A series of genetic changes have been reported in these tumors, although a wide variability between tumors has also been reported. Patients may be initially diagnosed with an anaplastic ependymoma, or these malignant tumors can arise from the malignant transformation of the lower-grade ependymoma. This underscores the importance of genetic changes in the formation of the disease, the biologic behavior, including malignant transformation, and the potential to use these molecular (genetic) changes as treatment targets.

What are ependymoma symptoms?

Please note: any symptoms you have are important and should be discussed with your doctor.

The symptoms that patients develop from brain and spinal cord tumors depend on the location of the tumor(s) within the central nervous system (CNS). Most of these tumors are slow growing. So symptoms may develop slowly and worsen over weeks or months.

In general, symptoms from brain and spinal cord tumors can be divided into two groups. The first group, called generalized symptoms, is more common with brain tumors. They usually are related to increased pressure within the brain. The second group of symptoms, called focal symptoms, depend on the location of the tumor within the brain or spinal cord.  The location will affect the brain or spinal cord function in that area.

Increased pressure occurs when the tumor presses within the skull (for a brain tumor) or along the spinal axis (for a spinal tumor).

Brain cancer symptoms associated with increased pressure may include pain, vomiting, changes in sight, confusion and sleepiness.

For spinal tumors, the pressure may also result in pain. The pain may be over site of the tumor, or along the nerve paths. Focal symptoms are dependent on the tumor’s location in the CNS.

Common brain tumor symptoms include:

  • Headache or pressure in the head
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Vision changes
  • Weakness or numbness and tingling on one side of the body
  • Problems with thinking, remembering or speaking

Common spinal cord tumor symptoms include:

  • Back pain
  • Weakness in the arms or legs
  • Numbness or tingling in the arms, legs or trunk
  • Problems going to the bathroom or problems controlling bowel or bladder function

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