Medulloblastomas are highly malignant brain tumors which are distinctly found in the cerebellum or posterior fossa areas of the brain, also known as primitive neuroectodermal tumors (PNET). Medulloblastomas are pediatric brain tumors which account for approximately 35% of brain tumors in children. This specific type of PNET tumor is fast-growing and can systemically metastasize through the central nervous system (CNS) to the bones, as one of the frequent locations for metastasis.
The incidence for medulloblastomas is prevalent in 40% of children under the five years of age. Medulloblastomas usually form in the 4th ventricle between the cerebellum and brainstem, and usually starts forming before birth from immature embryonal cells. If left undetected or untreated, the tumor may grow in size within a fairly quick amount of time and may cause intracranial pressure and eventually spread to the spinal fluid into the spine and bones. A child carrying a medulloblastoma at infancy, may show symptoms of frequent vomiting, headaches (which at first are frequently mistaken for stomach aches), if left untreated, the child may start developing a starring gaze, show signs of loss of balance and motor weakness, sensory loss, diplopia, papilledema and in worst cases, even get cranial nerve palsy.
One of the most dangerous complications involved with medulloblastomas is the formation of hydrocephalus, a compression of the cerebral spinal fluid pathways, which in most cases, will call for an insertion of a ventricular shunt. Diagnosis is usually immediately made with a magnetic resonance image (MRI) of the tumor, where it is possible to clearly see the dimensions and location of the tumor.
Treatment commences with as much resection of the tumor as possible, along with a combination of radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy in order to destroy all of the damaged cells in the neuraxis. Increased intracranial pressure may also be relieved with a ventriculoperitoneal shunt or intravenous treatment with corticosteroids. Treatment for medulloblastomas will depend on a number of conditions such as the child’s general health, age (there is usually poorer prognosis for younger children, less than 3 years old). It is often recommended for parents to receive support from family, friends, professionals and cancer support advisors. These support care systems provide information regarding a professional medical team of oncologists, neurosurgeons and neurologists and are found through private organizations, clinics and hospitals.