Key Points about Medulloblastoma
- Medulloblastomas are fast-growing cancerous brain tumors that most often affect children but can also develop in young adults.
- Doctors use neurological exams, imaging tests, spinal taps and physical exams to diagnose a medulloblastoma.
- Treatment for a medulloblastoma may include surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.
Medulloblastoma is a type of brain tumor that begins in the cerebellum, the lower back area of the brain that supports coordination, balance and movement of the body.
Medulloblastomas are malignant (cancerous), and they can spread to other areas of the brain and spinal cord. These tumors rarely spread to other areas of the body.
Medulloblastomas most often occur in young children, but they can occur in adults.
Medulloblastomas are caused when mutations (changes) occur in the cells of the cerebellum, and then those cells grow and multiply quickly.
Medulloblastoma risk factors
Medulloblastomas have a genetic link; that is, they can be passed down in families. If someone in your family has had a medulloblastoma, you may be at an increased risk of developing this type of brain tumor.
Other factors that can increase your risk for developing this brain tumor include:
- Being a child or an adult between the ages of 20 and 40
- Being Caucasian or Hispanic
- Being male
Signs and symptoms of medulloblastomas can include:
- Blurry or double vision
- Change in typical bladder or bowel habits
- Extreme fatigue
- Pain in the spine
- Syncope (“passing out”)
- Trouble with fine motor skills (using the small muscles of the hands, such as to write)
- Trouble with walking or keeping your balance
- Weakness or numbness in your arms or legs
Your oncologist may use one or more of the following tests to diagnose this condition:
- Physical exam – your doctor will perform a complete physical exam, including asking questions about your health history, symptoms and related risk factors. As part of the physical exam, your doctor may perform a neurological exam, which checks your balance, coordination, reflexes, vision and hearing. Problems in any of these areas could indicate that you have a medulloblastoma.
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan – this type of imaging test provides a 3D image of the inside of the body that your doctor can use to determine the size and location of a medulloblastoma.
- Lumbar puncture – also called a spinal tap, in this test, your doctor sends a sample of your cerebrospinal fluid to the laboratory for close analysis. The lab can determine if medulloblastoma cells are present.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – this type of imaging test uses high-powered magnets to create detailed images of the inside of your body. Your doctor can closely examine these images to determine the size and location of a medulloblastoma.
Depending on your personal health history, the extent of the medulloblastoma and other factors, your oncologist may recommend one or more of the following treatment options:
- Surgery – the first course of treatment for most people with this type of brain tumor is surgical removal of the tumor and/or surgery to relieve fluid buildup in the brain due to the tumor.
- Chemotherapy – you may also need to undergo chemotherapy to destroy any cancerous cells that couldn’t be removed surgically. During this treatment, medication is used to destroy cancerous cells. Chemotherapy can be taken via an oral (by mouth) pill or intravenously (through a vein).
- Radiation therapy – this treatment uses high-powered energy beams to destroy cancerous cells. You may need to undergo radiation therapy to destroy any cancerous cells that couldn’t be removed surgically.
When should I seek care?
If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing an oncologist for more specialized treatment.