Brainstem Gliomas Follow-up

Updated: Dec 02, 2018
  • Author: Douglas E Ney, MD; Chief Editor: Tarakad S Ramachandran, MBBS, MBA, MPH, FAAN, FACP, FAHA, FRCP, FRCPC, FRS, LRCP, MRCP, MRCS  more...
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Further Outpatient Care

Follow-up neuroimaging with MRI (unless contraindicated) is recommended within 72 hours after surgery and every 2-3 months to monitor response to therapy and progression of disease. This should be considered standard care for these patients.


Further Inpatient Care

Typically, patients are monitored for worsening signs/symptoms. Admission to the hospital may be required to enable therapeutic intervention and stabilization.



Complications may include the following:

  • Hydrocephalus, commonly obstructive

  • Growth and developmental delay (in children)

  • Cerebral herniation

  • Deep cerebral vein thrombosis

  • Paralysis/paresis

  • Cranial nerve deficits

  • Meningitis

  • Radiation necrosis

  • Hypopituitarism/hypothyroidism

  • Bone marrow suppression

  • Cognitive dysfunction



Pontine tumors are the most common variety of brainstem tumor. They also carry the worst prognosis; in children, the median survival duration is 9-12 months even with treatment. Kaplan et al reported a 37% survival rate at 1 year, 20% at 2 years, and 13% at 3 years, with a median survival of 10 months. Only 9 of 119 patients in their study were alive for more than 3 years after diagnosis. [10]

Squires et al, in a study of 12 children with midbrain tectal tumors, reported a median survival duration of more than 50 months. [11]

Favorable prognostic factors include (1) neurofibromatosis, (2) symptoms of at least 12 months' duration before diagnosis, (3) exophytic location, (4) pathology suggestive of low-grade tumor histology, (5) focal tectal and cervicomedullary tumors, and (6) calcification on CT scan.

Poor prognostic indicators include (1) age younger than 2 years, (2) multiple brainstem signs, (3) cranial nerve palsies, (4) diffuse intrinsic lesions of the pons, (5) short duration of signs and symptoms prior to the time of diagnosis, and (6) high-grade histology on tumor biopsy.

Hydrocephalus and tumor necrosis do not affect survival.

Race and gender do not affect survival.

The limited available data suggest that adults fare better than children with brainstem gliomas.

  • Grigsby et al reported a 10-year disease-free survival rate of 15.4% for adult patients with gliomas involving the midbrain, thalamus, or hypothalamus, and 29.6% for adults with pontine or medullary tumors. However, thalamic/hypothalamic neoplasms are not included historically in the classification of brainstem tumors. [12]

  • Landolfi et al studied 19 adults with brainstem gliomas, which included 13 diffuse intrinsic pontine, 4 cervicomedullary, and 2 tectal gliomas. They noted a trend that higher Karnofsky performance status conferred a better prognosis. Other factors did not affect survival. Median survival duration of patients in this study was 54 months, with a 5-year survival rate of 45%. [13]

  • Hamilton et al studied 16 adults with focal midbrain gliomas; they reported a median survival of 84 months. This indolent growth pattern is in marked contradistinction to the natural history of this disease in children. This is also the reverse of the usual behavior of hemispheric gliomas in which children typically fare better than older patients. [14]

  • Kesari et al reported on 101 adult patients with brainstem glioma. The overall survival for all patients at 5 and 10 years was 58% and 41%, respectively. The median survival was 85 months. They identified 4 factors that were significantly associated with survival in adults with brainstem gliomas. These factors included ethnicity, tumor location, age at diagnosis, and tumor grade. [15]

  • No explanation has been identified for the better outcome in adults; however, the possibility of prolonged survival with limited neurologic impairment must be recognized when counseling adults with brainstem gliomas.


Patient Education

Patients and families of patients acquire information from multiple sources, including, but not limited to, physician, patients, support groups, pharmaceutical companies, and the Internet. Physicians should be aware of this and have an open, informative relationship with their patients, empowering patients to become active members of the team with regard to the decision-making process involving their care.