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
(901) 595-4599

Or email us at braintumors@stjude.org

Associated Clinical Trials

CNS831: Maintenance Chemotherapy or Observation Following Induction Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy in Treating Younger Patients With Newly Diagnosed Ependymoma

Phase III Randomized Trial of Post-Radiation Chemotherapy in Patients with Newly Diagnosed Ependymoma Ages 1 to 21 Years (ACNS0831)

Diseases Treated:

Intracranial ependymoma


  • Patient must be greater than 12 months of age and less than 21 years of age at enrollment
  • Patients with newly diagnosed intracranial ependymoma without evidence of metastatic disease (confirmed by MRI brain and spine along with lumbar puncture to check CSF)
  • Patients with diagnosis of spinal cord ependymoma, myxopapillary ependymoma, subependymoma, ependymoblastoma, or mixed glioma are not eligible
  • No prior treatment other than surgical intervention and corticosteriods
View Trial

RERTEP: Surgery and Second-Course Radiation Therapy in Treating Younger Patients With Recurrent Ependymoma

A Phase II Trial of Surgery and Fractionated Re-irradiation for Recurrent Ependymoma

Diseases Treated:

Recurrent ependymoma


  • Participant aged 1-21 years at the time of enrollment.
  • Participant has histologically proven progressive Ependymoma after prior focal irradiation.
  • Participant did not receive prior craniospinal irradiation.
  • Participant is not pregnant.
View Trial

SJYC07: Risk-Adapted Therapy in Treating Young Children with Brain Tumors

Risk-Adapted Therapy for Young Children with Embryonal Brain Tumors, High-Grade Glioma, Choroid Plexus Carcinoma or Ependymoma

Diseases Treated:

ATRT, PNET, medulloblastoma and other embryonal brain tumors, high-grade glioma, choroid plexus carcinoma or ependymoma


  • Newly diagnosed brain tumor or tumor of the central nervous system and less than 3 years of age
  • Children between 3 and 5 years old with medulloblastoma  that has not spread  into the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord can also be treated on this trial
  • No prior radiation therapy or chemotherapy
View Trial

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