Causes of Medulloblastoma

Experts don’t yet know what causes medulloblastoma. It starts when changes to genes occur that affect how cells function. But why those genetic changes occur is not known.

A very small number of cases might be related to a genetic trait that can be passed down in a family. However, the vast majority of medulloblastoma cases are what is called “sporadic,” which means the cause is unknown.

If your son or daughter has medulloblastoma, it’s highly unlikely that their sibling will also have it. However, most larger institutions offer comprehensive genetic testing for their medulloblastoma patients.

Nothing has been found to date that ties medulloblastoma to a certain geographic region or to environmental exposure.

Medulloblastoma is an embryonal tumor. That means the tumor forms in cells left over from fetal development (embryonal cells). The tumor begins when there is an uncontrolled growth of these types of cells in the brain. But why this growth occurs is unknown.

Understanding What Cancer Is

Cells use DNA, the building blocks of genes, to carry out various functions, including making more cells. Sometimes pieces of DNA become damaged or are copied incorrectly. Scientists call this a mutation.

Usually, cells with mutations in their DNA either repair the mutation or die (a process called apoptosis). Sometimes, though, cells with mutations can’t be repaired and don’t die like they are supposed to. In certain cases, these mutated cells begin to divide quickly, which may cause a person to develop cancer.

Who Is at Risk for Medulloblastoma?

The following conditions are associated with medulloblastoma. People with these conditions have a higher risk of developing medulloblastoma:

  • Gorlin syndrome
  • Fanconi anemia
  • Turcot syndrome
  • Li-Fraumeni syndrome