Medulloblastoma - Childhood: Latest Research

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 09/2023

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about the scientific research being done to learn more about medulloblastoma and how to treat it. Use the menu to see other pages.

Doctors are working to learn more about medulloblastoma, ways to prevent it, how to best treat it, and how to provide the best care to children diagnosed with this disease. The following areas of research may include new options for patients through clinical trials. Always talk with your child’s doctor about the best diagnostic and treatment options for your child.

  • New staging systems. In addition to the staging criteria currently used (see Stages), newer factors are being examined to help stage medulloblastoma in order to choose treatment. For example, tumors with certain features are being treated as high-risk tumors in some clinical trials. This includes features that are called anaplastic and changes to certain genes, such as MYC and MYCN.

  • Biomarker testing of the tumor. Researchers are looking at laboratory tests for tumor samples to identify specific genes, proteins, and other factors unique to medulloblastoma. It is now known that medulloblastoma is made up of 4 subtypes:

    • WNT

    • SHH

    • Group 3

    • Group 4

    Results from these studies may help develop specific treatments for each type of medulloblastoma. This could include new drugs that target factors that help medulloblastoma grow and spread. Such drugs are being tested for patients with a tumor that comes back after initial treatment. These molecular features are also being looked at to predict how well treatment will work. Future studies will likely base treatment on each tumor’s specific molecular features. Learn more about this approach, called targeted therapy.

  • Improved methods of imaging and surgery. Imaging techniques have been developed that help surgeons pinpoint the tumor’s location. Using these techniques may reduce or prevent damage to the healthy parts of the brain during treatment.

    Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is an imaging technique that identifies the parts of the brain that control speech, hearing, vision, touch, and movement. The specific locations of these functions are slightly different in each person, so fMRI allows surgeons to plan surgery around these areas.

    Image-guided stereotaxis allows surgeons to visualize and operate on the brain using 3-dimensional outlines of the brain and the tumor. Along with specialized software, these images help guide the surgeon to the tumor. Some tumors that were once considered inoperable can now be removed by using this technique.

  • Improved methods of delivering radiation treatment. Conformal radiation therapy is a way to deliver high doses of radiation therapy more directly to a tumor and avoid healthy tissue. This technique produces detailed, 3-dimensional maps of the brain and tumor so doctors know exactly where to deliver the radiation therapy.

  • Combination of therapies. Other areas of research include studies that examine the safety of reducing the doses of radiation therapy for children with a standard-risk tumor by using new approaches to chemotherapy. Other studies in infants and older children with a high-risk tumor focus on new drugs and combinations of radiation therapy and chemotherapy to slow or stop tumor growth.

  • Palliative and supportive care. Clinical trials are underway to find better ways of reducing symptoms and side effects of current medulloblastoma treatments to improve comfort and quality of life for patients.

Looking for More About the Latest Research?

If you would like more information about the latest areas of research in childhood brain tumors, explore these related items that take you outside of this guide.

The next section in this guide is Coping with Treatment. It offers some guidance on how to cope with the physical, emotional, social, and financial changes that medulloblastoma and its treatment can bring. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.