A medulloblastoma is a cancerous tumor which develops in the cerebellum, the area of the brain responsible for movement and coordination. This cancer most frequently occurs in children and it is the most common form of childhood brain tumor. In cases of average risk, the five year survival rate with medulloblastoma is around 65 to 80% with treatment. High risk patients and infants have less favorable survival rates.
The cerebellum is located in the back of the brain, right behind the brain stem. As the cancer grows, it can invade other areas of the brain, with cells traveling through the cerebrospinal fluid. If the cancer is not treated or not caught early enough, it will spread to the spinal cord, causing a variety of symptoms including intense back pain. Medulloblastomas tend to spread very rapidly and aggressively, which makes prompt intervention very important.
One of the key symptoms is coordination problems caused by pressure on the cerebellum from the tumor. Patients may also experience headaches, fatigue, and vomiting, and sometimes the head swells or becomes distorted as a result of the tumor's growth. It can take some time to diagnose medulloblastoma unless a doctor has experience with this type of brain cancer, as these symptoms can be associated with several different medical problems.
Diagnosis can be performed with the assistance of a neurological exam which is designed to assess brain function, and medical imaging studies to look inside the brain. The medulloblastoma will show up as a mass in the brain on such scans, giving a doctor an idea about the size and precise location of the tumor. Once diagnosed, treatment should be provided as soon as possible.
Most successful treatments heavily depend on removal of as much of the tumor as possible. The removal has to be performed with care, as it is important to avoid damaging the patient's brain, and in some cases it may not be possible to take the tumor out without causing brain damage. A skilled neurosurgeon can assess the tumor and its location to determine how much can be removed. After surgery, chemotherapy and radiation can be used to kill any additional rogue cells in the brain, or to address parts of the tumor which may have been left in.
The cause of medulloblastoma is not known. This cancer is more common in boys, and it may have a genetic component, but there is nothing people can do to prevent the development of this cancer.