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What are the Signs of Medulloblastoma in Children?

Article Details
  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 11 November 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Medulloblastomas are cancerous brain tumors that can cause a number of different health problems in young patients. Early diagnosis and treatment are key in preventing life-threatening complications, so it is important to understand the possible signs and symptoms of medulloblastoma in children to help doctors recognize the developing problem. Some of the more common signs of medulloblastoma in children include frequent headaches, nausea, and abnormal eye movements. A child may also have trouble seeing and keeping his or her balance as a tumor grows. A parent or caregiver who notices worsening symptoms should report them to a physician right away to provide the best chances of recovery.

A tumor can cause sharp increases in the amount of cerebrospinal fluid present in the brain, which in turn raises intracranial pressure (ICP). The first signs of medulloblastoma in children are often related to ICP increases. Headaches and irritability are common, especially in the morning. A child may become lethargic most of the time and easily fatigued after physical activity. Constant, worsening head pain can also induce bouts of nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound.

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In most cases, medulloblastomas arise in an area of the brain called the cerebellum. The cerebellum is involved in many important functions, including the preservation of motor movement, coordination, language comprehension, and concentration. It is not surprising, therefore, that medulloblastoma in children compromises such functions most of the time. Facial muscles are often the first to be affected, which can lead to vision disturbances, and uncontrollable spasms in the lips, eyelids, and cheeks. Many children have double vision and very sudden, jerky eye movements that they cannot stop or prevent.

Nerves and muscles elsewhere in the body can also be affected by medulloblastoma in children. A child might have impaired coordination in the legs, leading to problems standing upright and walking in a straight line. Motor movements in the arms and fingers can also become very difficult or impossible to control. Rarely, a tumor can totally impair nerve functioning in an extremity and lead to paralysis. Additional symptoms of severe mental confusion, speech problems, and extreme behavioral outbursts can arise once cancer starts to spread to other areas of the brain and spinal cord.

A doctor can recognize the physical signs of medulloblastoma with the aid of diagnostic imaging tests. Magnetic resonance imaging and computerized tomography are often used to check for physical tumors. A specialist may also decide to perform a spinal tap to gauge the severity of ICP and collect a biopsy of fluid and tissue to confirm the presence of cancer. Small, early-stage tumors may be removed surgically before cancer starts to spread. If the malignancy is in an advanced stage, a combination of surgery and chemotherapy may be needed.

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