Ependymomas arise from the ependymal cells that line the ventricles of the brain and the center of the spinal cord.
These tumors are divided into four major types:
- Subependymomas (grade I): Typically slow-growing tumors.
- Myxopapillary ependymomas (grade I): Typically slow-growing tumors.
- Ependymomas (grade II): The most common of the ependymal tumors. This type can be further divided into the following subtypes, including cellular ependymomas, papillary ependymomas, clear cell ependymomas, and tancytic ependymomas.
- Anaplastic ependymomas (grade III): Typically faster-growing tumors.
The various types of ependymomas appear in different locations within the brain and spinal column. Subependymomas usually appear near a ventricle. Myxopapillary ependymomas tend to occur in the lower part of the spinal column. Ependymomas are usually located along, within, or next to the ventricular system. Anaplastic ependymomas are most commonly found in the brain in adults and in the lower back part of the skull (posterior fossa) in children. They are rarely found in the spinal cord.
Ependymomas are soft, grayish, or red tumors which may contain cysts or mineral calcifications.
Symptoms of an ependymoma are related to the location and size of the tumor. In babies, increased head size may be one of the first symptoms. Irritability, sleeplessness, and vomiting may develop as the tumor grows. In older children and adults, nausea, vomiting, and headache are the most common symptoms.
Ependymomas are relatively rare tumors in adults, accounting for 2-3% of primary brain tumors. However, they are the sixth most common brain tumor in children. About 30% of pediatric ependymomas are diagnosed in children younger than 3 years of age.
Like many tumor types, the exact cause of ependymomas is not known.
The first step of ependymoma treatment is to remove as much of the tumor as possible. Radiation is usually recommended for older children and adults following surgery, in some cases even if the tumor was completely removed.
The role of chemotherapy in treating newly diagnosed ependymomas is not clear. However, it may be used to treat tumors that have grown back after radiation therapy, or to delay radiation in infants and very young children.
Learn more about different treatment options for brain tumors on our Treatment page.
New approaches to treatment are currently in development. These new therapies are offered in organized research studies called clinical trials. Click here to access TrialConnect®, the ABTA's clinical trial match service.