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Diagnosing Medulloblastoma

Medulloblastoma is a type of brain and spinal tap tumor that develops from primitive nerve cells and usually occurs in the back of the brain. This is a very high-grade and fast-growing tumor, meaning it spreads quickly through the patient’s nervous system. 

Diagnosing medulloblastoma involves a series of different tests and examinations, and only after the proper diagnosis has been made can the medical team proceed with the treatment

Let’s go through all of the steps required to make a medulloblastoma diagnosis.

Physical Exam and Medical History

Regardless of what disease or illness the patient has, their doctor will need to make an initial assessment before performing any tests. This is done with a physical examination and an evaluation of the patient’s health history.

During this checkup, the doctor will talk to the patient to see what kind of symptoms they’re experiencing and whether any of them might indicate the presence of a brain tumor. They will also check the state of the patient’s immune system and see whether they are suffering from any condition that might weaken the immune system.

As for the health history, the doctor will need to look into whether the patient has any genetic conditions that would be considered a risk factor for developing medulloblastoma.

Neurological exam

If a person suffers from a brain and spinal cord tumor, their nervous system will be affected, especially as the tumor starts growing. This can have a grave impact on the patient’s vision, coordination, balance, speech, memory, and more.

This is why if a doctor suspects the presence of a brain tumor, they will perform a neurological exam to check some of the patient’s basic neurological functions. This will include their reasoning and judgment skills, reflexes, muscle skills and simple math problems, among other things.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Imaging tests are always used to diagnose tumors because they allow medical professionals in charge of the case to get a clear overview of the affected organ or body part.

The most commonly used imaging test is an MRI, which takes cross-sectional 3D images of the patient’s body including their organs, bones, tissues, and blood vessels. This is done with the use of powerful magnetic forces and radiofrequency waves.
There are multiple different types of MRIs that the doctor can order, depending on what they want to see. For example, if they want to closely inspect certain features of a brain tumor, they will order a magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS).

Computed Tomography (CT) Scan

Even though MRIs are the preferred imaging test for diagnosing brain tumors because they produce more detailed images, if the patient can’t have an MRI for whatever reason, their doctor will order a CT scan. However, it is also ordered if they want to get a closer look at the blood vessels in the patient’s brain.

A CT scan also takes cross-sectional 3D images of the patient’s body but with the use of X-ray equipment. Even though the images aren’t as clear as they are with an MRI, a CT still produces images that show the tumor, where it’s located and how big it is, which makes it a good option for diagnosing medulloblastoma and other brain tumors.

Lumbar Puncture (Spinal Tap)

One of the characteristics of brain tumors, especially the quickly-growing ones such as medulloblastoma, is that they can easily spread to the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). After the doctor determines the presence of medulloblastoma, they will also perform a spinal tap to check if the disease spread.

A lumbar puncture, also known as a spinal tap, is a procedure during which a small amount of cerebrospinal fluid is removed with a syringe and then examined under a microscope. This is done to check for the presence of cancerous cells in the CSF.


Diagnosing a brain tumor isn’t just about determining its presence and size. For the doctor to be able to properly treat the tumor, they need to understand its molecular structure and know what type of tumor the patient is suffering from. And the only way they can do this is by performing a biopsy.

To perform a biopsy, a surgeon will remove a small piece of the tumor, most likely its cells or tissue, and then send it over for lab testing, which will be done by a pathologist. Thanks to this testing, the medical team in charge of the case will know the exact cellular structure of the tumor, helping them make the right diagnosis and plan the appropriate treatment.

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