Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG)

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The brainstem consists of three parts: The midbrain, the pons, and the medulla oblongata. DIPG is a pontine glioma, meaning that it develops in the pons.

Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, commonly referred to as pontine glioma, infiltrative brainstem glioma, or DIPG, is a rare tumor of the brainstem that occurs almost exclusively in children. A pontine glioma occurs in a most delicate area of the brainstem (the "pons"), which controls many critical functions, including breathing and blood pressure. Its location, as well as the way it infiltrates normal brain tissue, makes it especially difficult to treat. There are about 300-350 new cases of DIPG diagnosed each year in the United States, usually in children under the age of 10. DIPG affect boys and girls equally.

DIPG is a kind of glioma, meaning that it originates from the glial (connective/supporting) cells of the brain. Gliomas of the brainstem, like DIPG, are uncommon in adults, but in children they are the leading cause of deaths from brain tumors. (In adults, the most common type of glioma is glioblastoma multiforme, or GBM, the brain tumor that in recent years took the lives of Senator Edward Kennedy and baseball star Gary Carter.) In the United States, there are about 400 new diagnoses a year of brainstem gliomas, and most of these are DIPG. 

Pontine gliomas grow quickly, so symptoms can appear suddenly and progress rapidly (see Symptoms of DIPG). Radiation treatments can help alleviate those symptoms, but they are not a cure. The prognosis for DIPG remains poor, but there are promising new research and clinical trials hold the hope of improved outcomes for children diagnosed with DIPG (see Diagnosing and Treating DIPG). It is important to have your child evaluated as soon as possible by an expert in pediatric brain tumors, to ensure that the most advanced treatment options are available to you. (See Doctors Who Treat DIPG.)

Find out more about our innovative
clinical trial for DIPG

What Causes DIPG?
Scientists do not yet know what causes DIPG, and the cancer is so rare that it hasn’t received nearly enough research funding to find a cause, a cure, or even better treatment options.  Survival rates have not improved much over the last few decades due to this lack of new research. Because of this, DIPG was chosen as one of the rare and inoperable pediatric brain tumors now being studied in the Weill Cornell Pediatric Brain and Spine Center’s Children’s Brain Tumor Project.

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Reviewed by: Zhiping Zhou, Ph.D.
Last reviewed/last updated: November 2014
Illustration by Thom Graves, CMI