Medulloblastoma is a type of brain cancer. It starts in an area known as the cerebellum, at the bottom and back of the brain.
The cerebellum is the center for balance, coordination, and motor control. Over time, the tumor can cause problems with these functions. Because of the location, this tumor can also interrupt the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). This fluid surrounds and cushions the brain and spinal cord. Interrupted flow can cause a buildup of pressure in the brain.
Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Cancer cells may start to divide out of control because of a defect in the DNA or instruction for the cells. The defect may be inherited or may randomly occur during normal cell changes.
Eventually these uncontrolled cells form a growth or tumor. These growths can invade nearby tissues or move into the CSF. This can spread cancer throughout the brain or spinal cord.
Medulloblastoma occurs at any age, but is more common in children. It is also more common in males.
At first, symptoms may not be noticeable or may not occur all the time. Over time, these symptoms can worsen.
Possible symptoms include:
The doctor will ask about symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Tests may include:
The physical exam combined with all of the test results, will help to determine the stage of cancer. Staging is used to guide a treatment plan. Like other cancers, medulloblastoma is staged from I-IV. Stage I is a very localized cancer, while stage IV indicates a spread to other parts of the body.
Treatment depends on age, overall health, and the stage of the cancer. For example, radiation may be used before surgery to shrink the tumor or after to make sure all the cancer has been removed.
Main goals of treatment include:
A craniotomy uses a small hole in the skull to remove part or the entire tumor.
If there is a problem with the flow of CSF, one of the following may also need to be done:
Radiation therapy is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. It may be used before surgery to reduce the size of the tumor or to reduce symptoms if surgery is not appropriate. The dose and delivery of radiation will be measured to reach the maximum benefit with minimum side effects.
If the tumor has spread along the CSF pathway, craniospinal radiation may be done. This is a special type of radiation on the entire brain and spinal cord.
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to interfere with the growth of cancer cells. It may be given in many forms including pill, injection, or IV depending on individual needs. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body killing mostly cancer cells. Some healthy cells are killed as well, which leads to side effects.
Chemotherapy may be used to support other treatments.
American Brain Tumor Association
American Cancer Society
Brain Tumor Foundation of Canada
Canadian Cancer Society
Brain and nervous system cancers. Nemours Kids Health website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/brain-tumors.html. Updated March 2013. Accessed January 7, 2015.
Brain and spinal cord tumors in children. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003089-pdf.pdf. Accessed January 7, 2015.
Medulloblastoma in children. Boston Children’s Hospital website. Available at: http://www.childrenshospital.org/health-topics/conditions/m/medulloblastoma/overview. Accessed January 7, 2015.
Last reviewed March 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.