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What are Ependymal Tumors (Ep-en-dee-mal)

A relatively rare form of glioma, ependymal tumors begin in the cells lining the fluid-filled spaces in the brain. Called the ventricles, these spaces can be found throughout the brain. Occasionally, these tumors can spread from the brain to the spinal cord via the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). This is the fluid that surrounds and protects the spinal cord and brain. However, ependymal tumors will not spread to other parts of the body. They can only affect the central nervous system. Unlike other tumors, ependymal tumors can develop in people of all ages, but are most common in children and adults who are 40-50 years of age. The symptoms vary depending on what area of the brain the tumor is growing. For more information about ependymal tumors, or to schedule an appointment, call (407) 303-1700 or click here to fill out an online assistance form.

There are three types of these tumors which can be found in the brain:

  • Subependymomas (sub-ep-en-dee-moe-mas) - These tumors are usually located in or around the ventricles and are slow-growing. With surgery, long-term prognosis is generally excellent.
  • Ependymomas (ep-en-dee-moe-mas) -  Ependymomas can arise anywhere in the central nervous system, but commonly develop in the posterior fossa (the portion of the skull containing the cerebellum and brain stem), the spinal cord or within the cerebral cortex. It is the most common of the ependymal tumors.
  • Anaplastic ependymomas - A fast growing tumor, anaplastic ependymomas can be difficult to treat. They commonly occure in the posterior fossa

A fourth type of ependymal tumor, myxopapillary ependymomas, only occurs in the spinal cord.

Members of the medical team at the Florida Hospital Brain and Spinal Cancer Program will discuss treatment options with you so that you can experience the best possible outcome. Your course of treatment depends on many factors, including the size and position of the tumor as well as your general health.

Causes of an Ependymal Tumor

Currently, the cause of an ependymal tumor is unknown, but scientists are working to find more evidence as to why these tumors are created.

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Symptoms of an Ependymal Tumor

Signs and symptoms associated with an ependymal tumor will depend on the size and location of the tumor. In neonates and infants, early symptoms may include an enlarged head, irritability, sleepiness and vomiting. In older children and adults, symptoms of an ependymal tumor may include headache, nausea, and vomiting are the most common signs. In addition, if the tumor is blocking the drainage of cerebrospinal fluid, a condition known as hydrocephalus may occur. The most common symptom, headaches are usually worse in the morning hours. If the tumor is located near the brain stem, it may cause one or both eyes to cross, difficulties with balance and trouble walking. If the tumor is growing near the brain stem or the upper part of the spinal cord, it may result in neck pain. Symptoms of an ependymal tumor in the cerebral hemispheres may lead to seizures, headache and weakness on one side or part of the body. Spinal cord tumors may cause leg or back pain, and if severe enough, can even wake a person from sleep. Tingling and numbness in the arms or legs may also be associated. If an ependymal tumor occurs in the lower part of the spine it can induce bladder or bowel control problems.

Common signs and symptoms of of an ependymal tumor may include:

  • A change in bowel function
  • Back pain
  • Blurry vision
  • Confusion or irritability
  • Frequent headaches
  • Loss of balance or trouble walking
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain or stiffness in the neck
  • Seizures
  • Trouble urinating
  • Weakness in the legs

For more information about ependymal tumors, or to schedule an appointment, call (407) 303-1700 or click here to fill out an online assistance form.

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Tests to Diagnose an Ependymal Tumor

In order to diagnose an ependymal tumor, physicians at Florida Hospital Cancer Institute may recommend a variety of tests and scans. These may include the following:

  • A physical exam and medical history: Your physician will check your general signs of health, including signs of disease, such as lumps or anything that seems out of the ordinary. Your medical history including your health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be checked.
  • A neurological exam: You will be asked to answer a series of questions and perform simple tests in order to check your brain, spinal cord and nerve function. These exams will check your mental status, coordination, and ability to walk normally (along with muscles, senses and reflexes).
  • An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): During the MRI procedure, a magnet, radio waves and a computer will be used to make a series of pictures of your brain and spinal cord.
  • Lumbar puncture: In order to diagnose an ependymal tumor, this procedure may be used to collect cerebrospinal fluid from the spinal column in order to check for cancer cells. A needle is placed into the spinal column and a sample of the fluid is drawn out. 

For more information about ependymal tumors, or to schedule an appointment, call (407) 303-1700 or click here to fill out an online assistance form.

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Treatments for an Ependymal Tumor

Physicians at Florida Hospital Cancer Institute will treat an ependymal tumor with surgery in order to remove as much of the tumor as possible. This may or may not be followed up with radiation therapy. Depending on the size and location of the tumor, it may be removed entirely, allowing for a better chance of long-term survivial. Radiation therapy may be used in conjuction with surgery in order to kill any tumor cells that may not have been removed during surgery. Chemotherapy is also an option for tumors that may grow back after radiation. 

Surgery
Radiotherapy
Chemotherapy

For more information about ependymal tumors, or to schedule an appointment, call (407) 303-1700 or click here to fill out an online assistance form.

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