Medulloblastoma

Overview

What is medulloblastoma?

Medulloblastoma is a cancerous tumor of your central nervous system (CNS). It forms in the posterior fossa region of your brain, in an area called the cerebellum.

Who does medulloblastoma affect?

Primarily a childhood disease, medulloblastoma mostly affects children and teens under the age of 16. Though rarer in older individuals, it can occur in adults as well. Medulloblastoma in adults is usually diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 44.

How common is medulloblastoma?

This type of cancer is rare, affecting between 350 and 500 children and adults in the U.S. each year. It is, however, the most common type of brain cancer (brain tumor) affecting children. Most cases are diagnosed between the ages of five and nine.

How does medulloblastoma spread?

Medulloblastoma is usually fast growing. It spreads to other parts of your brain and spinal cord through cerebrospinal fluid (a clear fluid that protects your brain and spinal cord from injury).

What’s the difference between medulloblastoma and astrocytoma?

Astrocytoma and medulloblastoma are both tumors found in your central nervous system. However, they originate in different areas. While medulloblastoma begins in your cerebellum, astrocytoma begins in star-shaped glial cells called astrocytes, usually on the outer curve of your brain. Astrocytoma is a type of glioma.

Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of medulloblastoma?

Medulloblastoma symptoms can vary depending on several factors, including a person’s age, the size of the tumor and the stage of development. These symptoms may be due to the location of the tumor or because of pressure buildup inside their brain. Warning signs may include:

What causes medulloblastoma?

The exact cause of medulloblastoma is unknown. But there are certain genetic conditions that could increase your or your child’s risk for developing the condition, including:

  • BRCA1 gene mutations. BRCA1 (breast cancer gene 1) and BRCA2 (breast cancer gene 2) produce proteins to help repair damaged DNA. People who inherit certain variants of these genes have increased risks for many different types of cancer. These individuals are also more likely to develop cancer at a younger age.
  • Nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome (NBCCS). Also called Gorlin syndrome, this hereditary condition is characterized by several basal cell skin cancers. People with NBCCS have about a 5% chance of developing medulloblastoma.
  • Turcot syndrome. This hereditary condition is described as colorectal (colon) cancer with primary brain tumors. It’s caused by gene mutations. People with Turcot syndrome have colorectal cancer along with a tumor in their central nervous system, such as a medulloblastoma or pituitary adenoma.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is medulloblastoma diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will talk with you about symptoms and review your medical history in detail. If they suspect medulloblastoma, they’ll order tests to confirm your diagnosis.

What tests will be done to diagnose medulloblastoma?

There are a few different tests that can help your healthcare provider make a diagnosis. These assessments may include:

  • A neurological examination. Your healthcare provider will check your hearing and vision, along with your coordination and reflexes. This helps determine which area of your brain may be affected.
  • CT (computed tomography) scan. This scan takes several pictures of your brain, then stitches the pictures together to create a detailed, 3D image.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This imaging test uses magnets and radio waves to capture detailed pictures of structures inside of your body.
  • Biopsy. In some cases, your healthcare provider may take a tissue sample and send it to a pathology lab for analysis. A biopsy is usually only performed if imaging tests aren’t enough to diagnose the condition.
  • Spinal tap (lumbar puncture). During this procedure, your healthcare provider removes cerebrospinal fluid to test it for cancer cells. A spinal tap is usually only performed after removing the tumor or managing the pressure buildup in your brain.

Management and Treatment

How is medulloblastoma treated?

The treatment recommended for your situation depends on many factors, including age, overall health and the extent of the tumor. Options include:

  • Surgery. Medulloblastoma surgery may be performed to relieve the pressure buildup on your brain or to remove the tumor. In some cases, complete removal of the tumor isn’t possible because it forms near structures deep within your brain. The most common treatment for medulloblastoma involves surgery followed by chemotherapy, radiation therapy or both.
  • Chemotherapy. Drugs are either taken in pill form or injected into a vein to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be given after surgery, after radiation therapy or in combination with radiation therapy. In some instances, a stem cell transplant is performed after chemotherapy.
  • Radiation therapy. This treatment uses high-energy radiation beams to kill cancer cells in your brain and spinal cord. Radiation therapy is designed and planned by specialists to target cancer cells while leaving healthy tissues intact. It’s often used to treat brain tumors and cancer in children.

How long does it take to recover from medulloblastoma treatment?

Length of treatment can vary from person to person. Those who undergo any type of brain surgery usually need at least four to eight weeks to recover. For chemotherapy or radiation therapy, treatment could last several weeks or several months, depending on the case. To learn more about your or your child’s estimated treatment time, talk with your healthcare provider.

Prevention

Can medulloblastoma be prevented?

Aside from radiation exposure, there are currently no known environmental or lifestyle-related risk factors for brain cancer in children. So, there isn’t a way to prevent medulloblastoma.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have medulloblastoma?

A team of medical experts, including oncologists, neurosurgeons, radiologists and physical therapists, will make up your healthcare team. They’ll work with you to design a personalized treatment plan according to your specific needs.

Can you survive medulloblastoma?

In many cases, yes. While medulloblastoma has the potential to spread throughout your entire nervous system, many people can be cured. There’s a higher chance of survival if the medulloblastoma hasn’t spread to other parts of your brain and spinal cord.

What is the medulloblastoma survival rate?

The five-year survival rate for medulloblastoma is over 70%. It means that over 70% of all people who are diagnosed with medulloblastoma are still alive five years later. This number is based on outcomes of medulloblastoma cases in the past. Keep in mind, survival rates can’t tell you how long you or your child will live. To better understand survival rates or your potential outcome, talk to your healthcare provider.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider?

If you or your child develops symptoms such as headaches, nausea, confusion or vision changes, schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider immediately. Those who’re already undergoing medulloblastoma treatment should inform their healthcare provider about any side effects. They can help you manage your symptoms and ease your discomfort.

What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?

A full understanding of your or your child’s diagnosis can help you make an informed decision regarding treatment. Here are some questions to ask your healthcare provider if you or your child has been diagnosed with medulloblastoma:

  • Where is the tumor located?
  • Has the medulloblastoma spread?
  • What treatment do you recommend?
  • Are there clinical studies of new treatments that might improve treatment?
  • Who’ll be leading my medical team?
  • Do you have any literature I can read about medulloblastoma?
  • Who can I talk to if I’m worried about managing the cost of treatment?
  • Is there a local support group I can join?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

A brain tumor diagnosis is mentally, emotionally and spiritually taxing. And when it affects your child, it’s unthinkable. But there are effective treatments that offer hope. Ask your healthcare provider about clinical trials, which are new treatments that’ll hopefully improve outcomes. Also, talk to your healthcare provider about the resources available to you and consider joining a support group. Being around others who’re going through the same thing can offer insight and comfort as you navigate this difficult time.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/18/2022.

References

  • American Cancer Society. Can Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors in Children Be Prevented? (https://www.cancer.org/cancer/brain-spinal-cord-tumors-children/causes-risks-prevention/prevention.html) Accessed 3/18/2022.
  • Cancer.net. Medulloblastoma – Childhood: Statistics. (https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/medulloblastoma-childhood/statistics) Accessed 3/18/2022.
  • Cancer.net. Nevoid Basal Cell Carcinoma Syndrome. (https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/nevoid-basal-cell-carcinoma-syndrome) Accessed 3/18/2022.
  • Khattab A, Monga DK. Turcot Syndrome. [Updated 2021 Jul 2]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Accessed 3/18/2022.
  • National Cancer Institute. Medulloblastoma Diagnosis and Treatment. (https://www.cancer.gov/rare-brain-spine-tumor/tumors/medulloblastoma) Accessed 3/18/2022.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy