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Medulloblastomas Defined

Originally published on September 9, 2010
Most recently updated on April 10, 2013

Medullablastomas are fast-growing tumors that form in brain cells in the cerebellum. The cerebellum is at the lower back part of the brain between thecereand the brain stem. The cerebellum controls movement, balance, and posture. Sometimes medulloblastoma spreads to the bone, bone marrow, lymph nodes, liver, or lung.  Medulloblastoma occurs more often in boys than in girls and most often in the first eight years of life.

Types

Medulloblastoma can be classified as either standard risk or high risk, depending on the child’s age, how much of the tumor remains after surgery, and whether the tumor has spread.

- Standard-risk tumor:

occurs in children older than age three, is able to be almost completely removed during surgery (less than 1.5 cubic centimeters remains) and has not spread

- High-risk tumor:
occurs in children of any age, has either spread to other parts of the brain or the spine, or it has not spread but more than 1.5 cubic centimeters of tumor remains after surgery\

 

Symptoms:

Some common symptoms of Medulloblastoma include:

- Headaches

- Morning vomiting that gets worse with time

- Clumsiness

- Problems with handwriting and other motor skills that get worse over time

If the tumor spreads to the spinal cord, it may cause the following symptoms:

-Back pain

- Inability to control the bowels and bladder

- Difficulty walking

 

Common Treatments:

Surgery is often the first course of action for treatment of medulloblastoma with the goal being to remove all of the tumor.  However, it is often not possible to remove the entire tumor safely due to it location in the brain.  Surgery is can be followed by radiation or chemotherapy based on how many tumor cells remain, the location of the tumor cells, and the age of the patient.  Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. Radiation therapy to the brain must be administered carefully because it can cause growth and developmental delays in children.  Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing.  Chemotherapy for medulloblastoma may be given by mouth or by injection into a vein or muscle. Sometimes, it is delivered directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, which is fluid that circulates around the brain and spinal cord.

Sometimes stem cell or bone marrow transplants are recommended for children with recurrent medulloblastoma.  In most stem cell transplants, the patient is treated with high doses of chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy to destroy as many cancer cells as possible. This also destroys the patient’s bone marrow tissue and suppresses the patient’s immune system. Blood stem cells (also known as hematopoietic stem cells) are then infused into the patient’s vein to replace the bone marrow and restore normal blood counts. The goal of transplantation is to destroy cancer cells in the marrow, blood, and other parts of the body and have replacement blood stem cells create healthy bone marrow.

Clinical Trials are another treatment option in which new treatment methods are being tested to find out if the new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.  More than 60% of children with cancer are treated as a part of a clinical trial.

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