How Does a Pediatric Brain Tumor Affect a Child’s Cognitive Ability?

Last Modified: September 18, 2013


My nephew was just diagnosed with a brain cancer. He is 9 years old. What effects can cancer treatment like radiation have on such a young child? Can there be problems with developmental or behavioral changes/delays?

Carol Armstrong, PhD, Director of Neuropsychology Lab, Neuro-Oncology Program at CHOP responds:


There are many effects of a brain tumor, the surgery, and radiation therapy that affect your son's cognitive abilities, emotions, behavior, drive, and sense of himself. You will be able to see how he is changing, but you will have many questions about whether behavioral changes you see are because of his coping, his stress, or because of the injury to his brain from the tumor and treatments.

The radiation therapy also varies greatly from person to person, based on where the tumor is, the type, and the age of the individual, as well as other factors. The doctor wants to limit the cognitive impairments to the greatest extent possible, but there are changes that occur after radiation therapy. Often there is a decline in certain memory functions during the weeks/months after the full dose is completed, and then recovery of memory over two years. Other problems may onset a few years after, which do not remit. Memory seems most sensitive.

It is important for you to become involved with a major brain tumor center, and get a neuropsychological evaluation for your son, in order for you to understand the developmental and behavioral changes that are likely to occur. Delay is an unfortunate term, as the injury from tumor and treatments is a form of neurological injury, and the goal is mostly to rehabilitate and compensate, but undoing the damage is not possible.

It is also very important, if possible, for your son to be seen at a brain tumor treatment center, preferably one at a major medical center or university medical system.



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