• Medulloblastoma Overview

    Medulloblastoma is a tumor located in the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls balance, coordination, and other complex motor functions. It is the most common malignant central nervous system tumor in children, accounting for 15 percent to 20 percent of all pediatric brain tumors.

    Medulloblastoma Treatment at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's

    Children with medulloblastoma are treated at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center through our Medulloblastoma/Primitive Neuroectodermal Tumor (PNET) Program. Continue reading to learn more about medulloblastoma or visit the Medulloblastoma Program homepage to learn about our expertise and treatment options for this condition.

    Symptoms & Diagnosis

    These tumors are most common between the ages of 3 and 8, but can occur at any time during childhood. They are associated with certain inherited diseases, including Li Fraumeni syndrome, nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome, and Turcot syndrome.

    The most common symptoms of medulloblastoma are:

    • Headache (generally upon awakening in the morning)
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Lethargy
    • Fatigue
    • Lack of balance and coordination
    • Hydrocephalus (fluid build-up within the brain)
    • Neck tilt
    • Double vision
    • Changes in personality or behavior
    • Seizures

    While it’s a rare occurrence, medulloblastoma can spread into the central nervous system or spinal cord and children can experience:

    • Loss of strength in the lower extremities
    • Back pain
    • Bowel or bladder control issues
    • Difficulty walking

    In addition to a physical examination and neurological function test of reflexes, muscle strength, eye and mouth movement, coordination and alertness, doctors diagnose medulloblastoma with:

    After surgery, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan can determine how much of the tumor was removed. After all tests are completed, doctors will be able to outline the best treatment options.

    Treatment & Care Options

    The most common treatments for medulloblastoma are:

    • Endoscopic third ventriculostomy or placement of a ventriculo-peritoneal shunt to relieve the symptoms of fluid build-up in the brain
    • Neurosurgery to remove the tumor and relieve pressure within the brain; the more complete the removal of the tumor, the better the outcome
    • Chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy after surgery to kill any remaining tumor cells

    Progressive or Recurrent Disease

    Medulloblastoma often recurs after treatment. The tumor may come back in the same place or a different part of the brain or body. Treatment for recurrent disease includes surgery with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. Children whose disease recurs may be eligible for clinical trials of new therapies, including high-dose chemotherapy with stem cell transplant.

    Long-term Outlook

    The outcome for children with medulloblastoma has improved dramatically over the past decades, with five-year survival rates over 70 percent. Outcomes for infants, however, remain poor, with five-year survival rates around 30 percent.