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Because the brain coordinates all of the body's activities and is at the core of intelligence, a brain tumor may cause a variety of symptoms. The symptoms exhibited by a child with a brain tumor will vary due to size of the tumor, how rapidly it is growing and where it is located. Tumors in the cerebrum can cause seizures, weakness or paralysis on one side of the body, slurred speech, altered vision and personality changes. Tumors in the brain stem can cause double vision, facial numbness or weakness, loss of hearing in one ear, choking on food or drink, recurrent respiratory tract infections, change in voice, vomiting without warning, and change in strength or feeling in an arm and/or leg. Tumors in the cerebellum can cause headache and neck pain, nausea, loss in balance with difficulty in walking, loss of coordination of movement of arms or legs.

These symptoms can be present for a variable length of time depending on the tumor's location and rate of growth. They will ultimately cause parental concern and a trip to the pediatrician. Typically, the symptoms will be attributed to a minor illness or an illness involving another region of the body. Several visits to the doctor are typical. This is easily understandable given the rarity of this condition. Most pediatricians will see this condition only in one or two of their patients during their entire career.

Once a tumor is suspected, an MRI scan is typically ordered. Intravenous contrast is often administered during these scans because the contrast may highlight the tumor and help to better predict its nature.