Symptoms of brain tumours in children

Brain tumour symptoms can be very similar to those of childhood illnesses. And they vary between children. It’s important for them to see their GP and get them checked over if they have the following symptoms:

  • headaches
  • feeling or being sick
  • seizures (fits)
  • problems with their eyes or vision
  • problems with their strength, balance or coordination
  • changes in their behaviour
  • problems with their posture
  • delayed or stopped puberty
  • your baby's head measures larger than it should

Brain tumours can cause these symptoms because:

  • they take up space inside the skull when they grow
  • of the position of the tumour in the brain

These symptoms can be different depending on your child’s age and development.

Cancer in children is rare and it’s important to remember the symptoms we list here are not always cancer. They’re usually for another reason.

Find out more about these possible symptoms of brain tumours in infants, children and teenagers below.

Symptoms

Feeling or being sick

Your child might be persistently feeling sick (nausea) or being sick (vomiting). Or you might notice they are vomiting most days.  Early morning vomiting is common.

Headaches

Your child might have a headache that doesn’t go away or keeps coming back.

Seizure (fit)

Your child might have seizures (fit). This is a seizure that is not related to a high temperature in babies.

Problems with eyes or vision

Your child might have:

  • abnormal eye movements
  • a squint, when both eyes don’t look in the same direction
  • blurred or double vision

Babies head circumference getting bigger

Head circumference is the measurement around your baby’s head. All babies have their heads measured when they are born and at their routine check at 6 weeks. They might have jumped a centile compared to their length and weight.

Make sure you take your red book to any appointments. Your baby’s health professional can record the measurements so that they can compare them.

Strength, balance and coordination problems

This is usually a loss of skills they have already learnt including balance and sitting up. They might be having problems with their coordination or strength.

Walking might become more difficult, or look different, than before.

Posture problems

Babies and children might have a stiff neck which means they can’t turn as much as usual. They might also be holding their neck in a twisted position, where their chin is turned to the side.

Behaviour changes

You might notice a change in their behaviour. In babies and young children, they might be sleeping a lot and have less energy than usual.

Older children and teenagers might also be very tired or have extreme mood changes. They might be confused.

Puberty changes

Your teenager might have delayed puberty. The start of puberty for girls is usually the development of their breasts. For boys it is when the testicles get bigger.

Delayed puberty, for girls, means no sign of puberty by the age of 13 or no periods by the age of 16. For boys, it means no sign of puberty by 14.

Your teenager might start puberty, then stop. Doctors call this arrested puberty. Girls might start their periods, but they stop again.

HeadSmart

HeadSmart aim to raise awareness of the common signs and symptoms of brain tumours in children and teenagers. They provide information for:

  • parents
  • the public
  • health professionals

They have more in depth information about the symptoms of brain tumours.

Seeing your GP

Take your child to see their GP if you notice a change that isn't normal for them. Or if they have any of the possible signs and symptoms of a brain tumour.

Referral to a specialist

There are guidelines to help GPs know when to refer a child to see a specialist. These guidelines are very clear that that the GP should take the parent or carers concern about their child into account when deciding about a specialist referral.

Your GP should consider referring your child to a specialist within 48 hours if they have new problems with:

  • movements
  • head tilt - your child might be holding their head in an abnormal way
  • strength
  • balance
  • coordination
  • confusion
  • tiredness

And your child’s GP thinks they might have a new problem with their brain or central nervous system.

Last reviewed: 
21 Apr 2022
Next review due: 
21 Apr 2025
  • Suspected cancer: recognition and referral
    The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), June 2015 (updated December 2021)

  • The brain pathways guideline: A guideline to assist healthcare professionals in the assessment of children who may have a brain tumour (Version 2)
    Children’s Brain Tumour Research Centre, February 2017

  • Scottish referral guidelines for suspected cancer: Children, teenagers and young adult cancers
    Health Improvement Scotland, January 2019 (Updated November 2020)

  • Oxford Textbook of Cancer in Children (7th Edition)
    H N Caron and others
    Oxford University Press, 2020

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