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What is ependymoma?

An ependymoma is a rare type of primary brain or spinal cord tumors. Ependymomas are found throughout the central nervous system in the supratentorial (top of the head), posterior fossa (back of the head) and spinal compartments.

These tumors affect both children and adults. They are thought to develop from certain cells that normally mature into ependymal cells. Ependymal cells line the ventricles (fluid-filled spaces in the brain) and the central canal of the spinal cord. Sometimes, ependymoma tumor cells can spread in the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.

How common is ependymoma?

  • In the United States, 200 new cases of ependymoma are found in children and adults each year.
  • Ependymoma occurs more often in children than in adults.
  • Ependymoma is the third most common type of brain tumors in children.
  • Most ependymomas are found in young infants and children.

What are the symptoms of ependymoma?

Ependymoma causes a variety of symptoms. Some symptoms depend on the location of the cancer. If your child has an ependymoma, the following general symptoms may be present:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Unsteady gait (walking)

How is ependymoma treated?

  • Surgery—is used to remove as much of the cancer as possible.
    • Complete removal of the tumor is often not possible because of the tumor location and concerns about damaging the surrounding normal brain tissue.
    • For patients with a type of ependymoma called anaplastic ependymoma, complete removal of the tumor may be harder. Anaplastic tumors grow more quickly and tend to spread into the surrounding normal brain tissue.

Following surgery, radiation therapy is commonly used to kill the remaining cancer cells:

  • Radiation therapy—uses high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing. Radiation therapy is commonly used in these cases:
    • When complete removal of the tumor is not possible
    • With more aggressive anaplastic tumors
  • Chemotherapy (“chemo”)—uses powerful medicines to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing (dividing) and making more cancer cells. Chemo may be given either before or after radiation therapy to get rid of remaining tumor cells.

What are the survival rates for ependymoma?

  • The overall five-year survival rate for those with ependymoma is about 82 percent.
  • For children up to 19 years of age, the five-year survival rate is about 72 percent.

Why choose St. Jude for your child’s ependymoma treatment?

  • St. Jude is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children.
  • St. Jude has created more clinical trials for cancer than any other children’s hospital in the United States.
  • The nurse-to-patient ratio at St. Jude is unmatched—averaging 1:3 in hematology and oncology, and 1:1 in the Intensive Care Unit.
  • The program offers a closely knit group of doctors, scientists, nurses and support staff providing the many types of treatment and support services crucial to the complete care of children with brain tumors.
  • Working with the Collaborative Ependymoma Research Network (CERN) and using a pioneering approach to developing drugs, St. Jude researchers have found possible new and repurposed drugs for treating ependymoma. These include 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), which is currently used to treat a variety of adult cancers. Based on this work, St. Jude is conducting a clinical trial of 5-FU in children and young adults who have already had ependymoma treatment but the tumors have returned.

Contact the Brain Tumor Team any time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Call our Brain Tumor Coordinator, Tabatha E. Doyle, RN:
(901) 595-2544

Or email us at

Associated Clinical Trials

PBTC48: Study of the Optune Device in Children with Certain High-Grade Glioma and Ependymoma Brain Tumors

Feasibility Trial of Optune for Children with Recurrent or Progressive Supratentorial High-Grade Glioma and Ependymoma

Diseases Treated:

High-grade glioma (HGG), ependymoma


  • Between 5 and 21 years old
  • Diagnosis of supratentorial high-grade glioma (HGG) or supratentorial ependymoma that is recurrent, progressive or refractory
  • Head circumference of at least 44 cm
  • Failed standard therapy with no other available treatment options
  • Recovered from prior chemotherapy, immunotherapy or radiotherapy
  • Willing and able to use the device at least 18 hours a day for at least 23 days and keep head shaved throughout treatment
View Trial

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