Medulloblastoma – Information, Treatment & Support

What is a medulloblastoma?

It is a brain tumour that develops in the early undeveloped cells of the brain. It's a type of tumour called a PNET (a Primitive Neuroectodermal Tumour). They develop in the cerebellum but may spread to other parts of the brain and the spinal column through the CSF (cerebrospinal fluid).

What causes it?

The causes of a medulloblastoma are unknown. This is the case with lots of brain cancers.
  • Having lots of headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Problems with vision

The above are all symptoms of a medulloblastoma. This is due to the tumour taking up space in the head, which can cause swelling (know as increased intracranial pressure – ICP)

  • As the cerebellum is the part of the brain that controls muscle coordination, a tumour in this area may cause problems with balance, coordination and walking. Speech can also be affected, and words may be slurred or muddled.
  • If the tumour has spread to the spinal cord, symptoms may include back pain, difficulty walking and problems with bowel or bladder control.

TIP: If you have any of these symptoms you should have them checked by your doctor – but remember, they are common to many illnesses.

After visiting a GP a referral will probably be made to a hospital for some tests. These may include:

  • Lumbar puncture. This is to determine if there are any cancer cells in the CSF.

If the results of the test show the presence of a medulloblastoma, another referral will be made to a doctor who specialises in the treatment of diseases of the brain, (called a neurologist), a neurosurgeon (a brain surgeon) and an oncologist (cancer doctor).

A team of doctors and other staff at the hospital will plan the treatment. It will depend on the size of the tumour and where it is. Treatment may be carried out by an oncologist (a doctor who specialises in treating cancer with chemotherapy), a neurosurgeon(a surgeon who specialises in brain surgery) or a radiologist (a doctor who specialises in treating cancer with radiation).

Treatment may involve:

  • Surgery
  • Radiotherapy
  • Chemotherapy

Steroids may also be given to decrease the swelling caused by the tumour.

Surgery for a medulloblastoma:

  • The aim of surgery is to remove as much tumour as possible. A medulloblastoma may block the ventricles (draining tubes) in the brain, causing a build up of CSF. Often a shunt or drain is then inserted to drain the excess fluid away.
  • It can be very difficult to remove the entire tumour, so radiotherapy and chemotherapy are given after surgery.
  • Some tumours may not be treatable through surgery so the doctor will decide on other forms of treatment.

For more information about surgery, go to our surgery page.

Radiotherapy for a medulloblastoma:

  • Radiotherapy may be used to destroy any remaining tumour that is not removed through surgery. As a medulloblastoma may spread to the spinal cord, radiotherapy is given to both the brain and spinal cord.
  • If the patient is a child under 4 years, then radiotherapy is not generally used as treatment.

For more information about radiotherapy, go to our radiotherapy page.

Chemotherapy for a medulloblastoma:

  • Chemotherapy may be used to shrink the size of the tumour and to get rid of any cancer cells around the body. If the patient is a young child, then chemotherapy may be given instead of radiotherapy.

For more information about chemotherapy, go to our chemotherapy page.

There are some side effects of the treatments for a medulloblastoma.

 Join CanTeen’s online community to chat with other young people about medulloblastomas, their treatment… or anything really.