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Childhood Chordoma Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI]

This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http://cancer.gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.


Chordoma is a very rare tumor of bone that arises from remnants of the notochord within the clivus, spinal vertebrae, or sacrum; the most common site in children is the cranium.[1] The incidence in the United States is approximately one case per 1 million people per year, and only 5% of all chordomas occur in patients younger than 20 years.[2,3] Most pediatric patients have the classical or chondroid variant of chordoma, while the dedifferentiated variant is rare in children.[2,4]


  1. Sebro R, DeLaney T, Hornicek F, et al.: Differences in sex distribution, anatomic location and MR imaging appearance of pediatric compared to adult chordomas. BMC Med Imaging 16 (1): 53, 2016.
  2. Hoch BL, Nielsen GP, Liebsch NJ, et al.: Base of skull chordomas in children and adolescents: a clinicopathologic study of 73 cases. Am J Surg Pathol 30 (7): 811-8, 2006.
  3. Lau CS, Mahendraraj K, Ward A, et al.: Pediatric Chordomas: A Population-Based Clinical Outcome Study Involving 86 Patients from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Result (SEER) Database (1973-2011). Pediatr Neurosurg 51 (3): 127-36, 2016.
  4. McMaster ML, Goldstein AM, Bromley CM, et al.: Chordoma: incidence and survival patterns in the United States, 1973-1995. Cancer Causes Control 12 (1): 1-11, 2001.


Younger children appear to have a worse outlook than do older patients.[1,2,3,4,5,6] The survival rate in children and adolescents ranges from about 50% to 80% for cranial chordomas.[2,3,5] A retrospective literature review and review of institutional patients identified 682 patients with chordomas of the spine, with a median age of 57 years.[7][Level of evidence: 3iiiA] Age younger than 18 years, location in sacral spine, dedifferentiated pathology, and chemotherapy were associated with a lower probability for progression-free survival (PFS). Young age (<18 years), old age (>65 years), bladder or bowel dysfunction at presentation, dedifferentiated pathology, recurrence or progression, and metastases were associated with a worse overall survival. Histopathology is also an important prognostic factor, with atypical or chondroid pathology having worse outcomes than classical pathology.[8][Level of evidence: 3iiiA]

A multicenter, retrospective study identified 40 children with chordomas (median age, 12 years).[9][Level of evidence: 3iiiA] Most of the patients had the histologically classical form of chordoma (45.5%), and the chordomas were mostly located at the skull base (72.5%). The overall survival (OS) rates were 66.6% at 5 years and 58.6% at 10 years. The PFS rates were 55.7% at 5 years and 52% at 10 years. Total resection correlated with a better outcome (P = .04 for OS and PFS, log-rank). Loss of BAF47 immunoexpression appeared to be a significant independent adverse prognostic factor (PFS, P = .033).

A retrospective analysis identified seven children with poorly differentiated chordomas.[10][Level of evidence: 3iiA] The median survival of these patients was 9 months. All poorly differentiated chordomas showed loss of SMARCB1 expression by immunohistochemistry. Copy number profiles were derived from intensity measures of the methylation probes and indicated 22q losses affecting the SMARCB1 region in all poorly differentiated chordomas.


  1. Coffin CM, Swanson PE, Wick MR, et al.: Chordoma in childhood and adolescence. A clinicopathologic analysis of 12 cases. Arch Pathol Lab Med 117 (9): 927-33, 1993.
  2. Borba LA, Al-Mefty O, Mrak RE, et al.: Cranial chordomas in children and adolescents. J Neurosurg 84 (4): 584-91, 1996.
  3. Hoch BL, Nielsen GP, Liebsch NJ, et al.: Base of skull chordomas in children and adolescents: a clinicopathologic study of 73 cases. Am J Surg Pathol 30 (7): 811-8, 2006.
  4. Jian BJ, Bloch OG, Yang I, et al.: A comprehensive analysis of intracranial chordoma and survival: a systematic review. Br J Neurosurg 25 (4): 446-53, 2011.
  5. Yasuda M, Bresson D, Chibbaro S, et al.: Chordomas of the skull base and cervical spine: clinical outcomes associated with a multimodal surgical resection combined with proton-beam radiation in 40 patients. Neurosurg Rev 35 (2): 171-82; discussion 182-3, 2012.
  6. Chambers KJ, Lin DT, Meier J, et al.: Incidence and survival patterns of cranial chordoma in the United States. Laryngoscope 124 (5): 1097-102, 2014.
  7. Zhou J, Sun J, Bai HX, et al.: Prognostic Factors in Patients With Spinal Chordoma: An Integrative Analysis of 682 Patients. Neurosurgery 81 (5): 812-823, 2017.
  8. Tsitouras V, Wang S, Dirks P, et al.: Management and outcome of chordomas in the pediatric population: The Hospital for Sick Children experience and review of the literature. J Clin Neurosci 34: 169-176, 2016.
  9. Beccaria K, Tauziède-Espariat A, Monnien F, et al.: Pediatric Chordomas: Results of a Multicentric Study of 40 Children and Proposal for a Histopathological Prognostic Grading System and New Therapeutic Strategies. J Neuropathol Exp Neurol 77 (3): 207-215, 2018.
  10. Hasselblatt M, Thomas C, Hovestadt V, et al.: Poorly differentiated chordoma with SMARCB1/INI1 loss: a distinct molecular entity with dismal prognosis. Acta Neuropathol 132 (1): 149-51, 2016.

Clinical Presentation

Patients usually present with pain, with or without neurologic deficits such as cranial or other nerve impairment. Diagnosis is straightforward when the typical physaliferous (soap bubble–bearing) cells are present. Differential diagnosis is sometimes difficult and includes dedifferentiated chordoma and chondrosarcoma. Childhood chordoma has been associated with tuberous sclerosis complex.[1]


  1. McMaster ML, Goldstein AM, Parry DM: Clinical features distinguish childhood chordoma associated with tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) from chordoma in the general paediatric population. J Med Genet 48 (7): 444-9, 2011.

Treatment of Childhood Chordoma

Treatment options for childhood chordoma include the following:

  1. Surgery.
  2. Radiation therapy.

Standard treatment includes surgery and external radiation therapy, often proton-beam radiation.[1,2] Surgery is not commonly curative in children and adolescents because of difficulty obtaining clear margins and the likelihood of the chordoma arising in the skull base, rather than in the sacrum, making them relatively inaccessible to complete surgical excision. However, if gross-total resection can be achieved, outcome is improved.[3][Level of evidence: 3iiA]

The best results have been obtained using proton-beam therapy (charged-particle radiation therapy) because these tumors are relatively radiation resistant, and radiation-dose conformality with protons allows for higher tumor doses while sparing adjacent critical normal tissues.[4,5,6]; [1,7][Level of evidence: 3iiA]; [8][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiii]

There are only a few anecdotal reports of the use of cytotoxic chemotherapy after surgery alone or surgery plus radiation therapy. Treatment with ifosfamide/etoposide and vincristine/doxorubicin/cyclophosphamide has been reported with some success.[9,10] The role for chemotherapy in the treatment of this disease is uncertain.

Imatinib mesylate has been studied in adults with chordoma on the basis of the overexpression of PDGFRA, PDGFRB, and KIT in this disease.[11,12] Among 50 adults with chordoma treated with imatinib and evaluable by Response Evaluation Criteria In Solid Tumors (RECIST) guidelines, there was one partial response and 28 additional patients had stable disease at 6 months.[12] The low rate of RECIST responses and the potentially slow natural course of the disease complicate the assessment of the efficacy of imatinib for chordoma.[12] Other tyrosine kinase inhibitors and combinations involving kinase inhibitors have been studied in adults.[13,14,15] One multicenter French retrospective study reported five patients who had partial responses to treatment with either imatinib, sorafenib, or erlotinib, with a median progression-free survival of 36 months.[16]

Recurrences are usually local but can include distant metastases to lungs or bone.


  1. Yasuda M, Bresson D, Chibbaro S, et al.: Chordomas of the skull base and cervical spine: clinical outcomes associated with a multimodal surgical resection combined with proton-beam radiation in 40 patients. Neurosurg Rev 35 (2): 171-82; discussion 182-3, 2012.
  2. DeLaney TF, Liebsch NJ, Pedlow FX, et al.: Long-term results of Phase II study of high dose photon/proton radiotherapy in the management of spine chordomas, chondrosarcomas, and other sarcomas. J Surg Oncol 110 (2): 115-22, 2014.
  3. Rassi MS, Hulou MM, Almefty K, et al.: Pediatric Clival Chordoma: A Curable Disease that Conforms to Collins' Law. Neurosurgery 82 (5): 652-660, 2018.
  4. Hug EB, Sweeney RA, Nurre PM, et al.: Proton radiotherapy in management of pediatric base of skull tumors. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 52 (4): 1017-24, 2002.
  5. Noël G, Habrand JL, Jauffret E, et al.: Radiation therapy for chordoma and chondrosarcoma of the skull base and the cervical spine. Prognostic factors and patterns of failure. Strahlenther Onkol 179 (4): 241-8, 2003.
  6. Lim PS, Tran S, Kroeze SGC, et al.: Outcomes of adolescents and young adults treated for brain and skull base tumors with pencil beam scanning proton therapy. Pediatr Blood Cancer 67 (12): e28664, 2020.
  7. Rombi B, Ares C, Hug EB, et al.: Spot-scanning proton radiation therapy for pediatric chordoma and chondrosarcoma: clinical outcome of 26 patients treated at paul scherrer institute. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 86 (3): 578-84, 2013.
  8. Rutz HP, Weber DC, Goitein G, et al.: Postoperative spot-scanning proton radiation therapy for chordoma and chondrosarcoma in children and adolescents: initial experience at paul scherrer institute. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 71 (1): 220-5, 2008.
  9. Dhall G, Traverso M, Finlay JL, et al.: The role of chemotherapy in pediatric clival chordomas. J Neurooncol 103 (3): 657-62, 2011.
  10. Al-Rahawan MM, Siebert JD, Mitchell CS, et al.: Durable complete response to chemotherapy in an infant with a clival chordoma. Pediatr Blood Cancer 59 (2): 323-5, 2012.
  11. Casali PG, Messina A, Stacchiotti S, et al.: Imatinib mesylate in chordoma. Cancer 101 (9): 2086-97, 2004.
  12. Stacchiotti S, Longhi A, Ferraresi V, et al.: Phase II study of imatinib in advanced chordoma. J Clin Oncol 30 (9): 914-20, 2012.
  13. Lindén O, Stenberg L, Kjellén E: Regression of cervical spinal cord compression in a patient with chordoma following treatment with cetuximab and gefitinib. Acta Oncol 48 (1): 158-9, 2009.
  14. Singhal N, Kotasek D, Parnis FX: Response to erlotinib in a patient with treatment refractory chordoma. Anticancer Drugs 20 (10): 953-5, 2009.
  15. Stacchiotti S, Marrari A, Tamborini E, et al.: Response to imatinib plus sirolimus in advanced chordoma. Ann Oncol 20 (11): 1886-94, 2009.
  16. Lebellec L, Chauffert B, Blay JY, et al.: Advanced chordoma treated by first-line molecular targeted therapies: Outcomes and prognostic factors. A retrospective study of the French Sarcoma Group (GSF/GETO) and the Association des Neuro-Oncologues d'Expression Française (ANOCEF). Eur J Cancer 79: 119-128, 2017.

Treatment Options Under Clinical Evaluation for Childhood Chordoma

Information about National Cancer Institute (NCI)–supported clinical trials can be found on the NCI website. For information about clinical trials sponsored by other organizations, refer to the ClinicalTrials.gov website.

The following is an example of a national and/or institutional clinical trial that is currently being conducted:

  • APEC1621 (NCT03155620) (Pediatric MATCH: Targeted Therapy Directed by Genetic Testing in Treating Pediatric Patients with Relapsed or Refractory Advanced Solid Tumors, Non-Hodgkin Lymphomas, or Histiocytic Disorders): NCI-COG Pediatric Molecular Analysis for Therapeutic Choice (MATCH), referred to as Pediatric MATCH, will match targeted agents with specific molecular changes identified using a next-generation sequencing targeted assay of more than 4,000 different mutations across more than 160 genes in refractory and recurrent solid tumors. Children and adolescents aged 1 to 21 years are eligible for the trial.

    Patients with chordomas and SMARCB1 mutations may be offered treatment with tazemetostat on the APEC1621C (NCT03213665) treatment arm of this trial.

    Tumor tissue from progressive or recurrent disease must be available for molecular characterization. Patients with tumors that have molecular variants addressed by treatment arms included in the trial will be offered treatment on Pediatric MATCH. Additional information can be obtained on the NCI website and ClinicalTrials.gov website.

Special Considerations for the Treatment of Children With Cancer

Cancer in children and adolescents is rare, although the overall incidence of childhood cancer has been slowly increasing since 1975.[1] Referral to medical centers with multidisciplinary teams of cancer specialists experienced in treating cancers that occur in childhood and adolescence should be considered for children and adolescents with cancer. This multidisciplinary team approach incorporates the skills of the following health care professionals and others to ensure that children receive treatment, supportive care, and rehabilitation that will achieve optimal survival and quality of life:

  • Primary care physicians.
  • Pediatric surgeons.
  • Radiation oncologists.
  • Pediatric medical oncologists/hematologists.
  • Rehabilitation specialists.
  • Pediatric nurse specialists.
  • Social workers.
  • Child-life professionals.
  • Psychologists.

(Refer to the PDQ Supportive and Palliative Care summaries for specific information about supportive care for children and adolescents with cancer.)

Guidelines for pediatric cancer centers and their role in the treatment of pediatric patients with cancer have been outlined by the American Academy of Pediatrics.[2] At these pediatric cancer centers, clinical trials are available for most types of cancer that occur in children and adolescents, and the opportunity to participate in these trials is offered to most patients and their families. Clinical trials for children and adolescents diagnosed with cancer are generally designed to compare potentially better therapy with therapy that is currently accepted as standard. Most of the progress made in identifying curative therapy for childhood cancers has been achieved through clinical trials. Information about ongoing clinical trials is available from the NCI website.

Dramatic improvements in survival have been achieved for children and adolescents with cancer. Between 1975 and 2010, childhood cancer mortality decreased by more than 50%.[3] Childhood and adolescent cancer survivors require close monitoring because cancer therapy side effects may persist or develop months or years after treatment. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Cancer for specific information about the incidence, type, and monitoring of late effects in childhood and adolescent cancer survivors.)

Childhood cancer is a rare disease, with about 15,000 cases diagnosed annually in the United States in individuals younger than 20 years.[4] The U.S. Rare Diseases Act of 2002 defines a rare disease as one that affects populations smaller than 200,000 persons. Therefore, all pediatric cancers are considered rare.

The designation of a rare tumor is not uniform among pediatric and adult groups. Adult rare cancers are defined as those with an annual incidence of fewer than six cases per 100,000 people, and they are estimated to account for up to 24% of all cancers diagnosed in the European Union and about 20% of all cancers diagnosed in the United States.[5,6] Also, the designation of a pediatric rare tumor is not uniform among international groups, as follows:

  • The Italian cooperative project on rare pediatric tumors (Tumori Rari in Eta Pediatrica [TREP]) defines a pediatric rare tumor as one with an incidence of less than two cases per 1 million population per year and is not included in other clinical trials.[7]
  • The Children's Oncology Group has opted to define rare pediatric cancers as those listed in the International Classification of Childhood Cancer subgroup XI, which includes thyroid cancer, melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancers, and multiple types of carcinomas (e.g., adrenocortical carcinoma, nasopharyngeal carcinoma, and most adult-type carcinomas such as breast cancer, colorectal cancer, etc.).[8] These diagnoses account for about 4% of cancers diagnosed in children aged 0 to 14 years, compared with about 20% of cancers diagnosed in adolescents aged 15 to 19 years.[9]

    Most cancers within subgroup XI are either melanomas or thyroid cancer, with the remaining subgroup XI cancer types accounting for only 1.3% of cancers in children aged 0 to 14 years and 5.3% of cancers in adolescents aged 15 to 19 years.

These rare cancers are extremely challenging to study because of the low incidence of patients with any individual diagnosis, the predominance of rare cancers in the adolescent population, and the lack of clinical trials for adolescents with rare cancers.


  1. Smith MA, Seibel NL, Altekruse SF, et al.: Outcomes for children and adolescents with cancer: challenges for the twenty-first century. J Clin Oncol 28 (15): 2625-34, 2010.
  2. Corrigan JJ, Feig SA; American Academy of Pediatrics: Guidelines for pediatric cancer centers. Pediatrics 113 (6): 1833-5, 2004.
  3. Smith MA, Altekruse SF, Adamson PC, et al.: Declining childhood and adolescent cancer mortality. Cancer 120 (16): 2497-506, 2014.
  4. Ward E, DeSantis C, Robbins A, et al.: Childhood and adolescent cancer statistics, 2014. CA Cancer J Clin 64 (2): 83-103, 2014 Mar-Apr.
  5. Gatta G, Capocaccia R, Botta L, et al.: Burden and centralised treatment in Europe of rare tumours: results of RARECAREnet-a population-based study. Lancet Oncol 18 (8): 1022-1039, 2017.
  6. DeSantis CE, Kramer JL, Jemal A: The burden of rare cancers in the United States. CA Cancer J Clin 67 (4): 261-272, 2017.
  7. Ferrari A, Bisogno G, De Salvo GL, et al.: The challenge of very rare tumours in childhood: the Italian TREP project. Eur J Cancer 43 (4): 654-9, 2007.
  8. Pappo AS, Krailo M, Chen Z, et al.: Infrequent tumor initiative of the Children's Oncology Group: initial lessons learned and their impact on future plans. J Clin Oncol 28 (33): 5011-6, 2010.
  9. Howlader N, Noone AM, Krapcho M, et al., eds.: SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975-2012. Bethesda, Md: National Cancer Institute, 2015. Also available online. Last accessed October 05, 2020.

Changes to This Summary (02 / 11 / 2021)

The PDQ cancer information summaries are reviewed regularly and updated as new information becomes available. This section describes the latest changes made to this summary as of the date above.

Treatment of Childhood Chordoma

Added Lim et al. as reference 6.

This summary is written and maintained by the PDQ Pediatric Treatment Editorial Board, which is editorially independent of NCI. The summary reflects an independent review of the literature and does not represent a policy statement of NCI or NIH. More information about summary policies and the role of the PDQ Editorial Boards in maintaining the PDQ summaries can be found on the About This PDQ Summary and PDQ® - NCI's Comprehensive Cancer Database pages.

About This PDQ Summary

Purpose of This Summary

This PDQ cancer information summary for health professionals provides comprehensive, peer-reviewed, evidence-based information about the treatment of pediatric chordoma. It is intended as a resource to inform and assist clinicians who care for cancer patients. It does not provide formal guidelines or recommendations for making health care decisions.

Reviewers and Updates

This summary is reviewed regularly and updated as necessary by the PDQ Pediatric Treatment Editorial Board, which is editorially independent of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The summary reflects an independent review of the literature and does not represent a policy statement of NCI or the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Board members review recently published articles each month to determine whether an article should:

  • be discussed at a meeting,
  • be cited with text, or
  • replace or update an existing article that is already cited.

Changes to the summaries are made through a consensus process in which Board members evaluate the strength of the evidence in the published articles and determine how the article should be included in the summary.

The lead reviewers for Childhood Chordoma Treatment are:

  • Denise Adams, MD (Children's Hospital Boston)
  • Karen J. Marcus, MD, FACR (Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Boston Children's Hospital)
  • Paul A. Meyers, MD (Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center)
  • Thomas A. Olson, MD (Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta - Egleston Campus)
  • Alberto S. Pappo, MD (St. Jude Children's Research Hospital)
  • Arthur Kim Ritchey, MD (Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC)
  • Carlos Rodriguez-Galindo, MD (St. Jude Children's Research Hospital)
  • Stephen J. Shochat, MD (St. Jude Children's Research Hospital)

Any comments or questions about the summary content should be submitted to Cancer.gov through the NCI website's Email Us. Do not contact the individual Board Members with questions or comments about the summaries. Board members will not respond to individual inquiries.

Levels of Evidence

Some of the reference citations in this summary are accompanied by a level-of-evidence designation. These designations are intended to help readers assess the strength of the evidence supporting the use of specific interventions or approaches. The PDQ Pediatric Treatment Editorial Board uses a formal evidence ranking system in developing its level-of-evidence designations.

Permission to Use This Summary

PDQ is a registered trademark. Although the content of PDQ documents can be used freely as text, it cannot be identified as an NCI PDQ cancer information summary unless it is presented in its entirety and is regularly updated. However, an author would be permitted to write a sentence such as "NCI's PDQ cancer information summary about breast cancer prevention states the risks succinctly: [include excerpt from the summary]."

The preferred citation for this PDQ summary is:

PDQ® Pediatric Treatment Editorial Board. PDQ Childhood Chordoma Treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Updated <MM/DD/YYYY>. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/bone/hp/child-chordoma-treatment-pdq. Accessed <MM/DD/YYYY>.

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Based on the strength of the available evidence, treatment options may be described as either "standard" or "under clinical evaluation." These classifications should not be used as a basis for insurance reimbursement determinations. More information on insurance coverage is available on Cancer.gov on the Managing Cancer Care page.

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Last Revised: 2021-02-11