Cerebellar mutism syndrome (CMS) is a unique postoperative syndrome typically arising 1 to 2 days after resection of a midline posterior fossa tumor; it consists of diminished speech progressing to mutism, emotional lability, hypotonia, and ataxia. Most descriptions have been limited to small institutional series using a retrospective chart review methodology.
The authors incorporated a CMS questionnaire in two large clinical trials (Children’s Cancer Group [CCG] 9931, treatment for high-risk medulloblastoma/primitive neuroectodermal tumor; and CCG/Pediatric Oncology Group [POG] A9961, treatment for average-risk medulloblastoma) to prospectively survey for incidence, severity, and possible causes of CMS in children with newly diagnosed medulloblastoma. Information pertaining to 450 of the 463 patients enrolled in the studies was available for review (82 patients in CCG 9931, and 368 patients in CCG/POG A9961).
Cerebellar mutism syndrome occurred in 107 (24%) of 450 children. Symptom intensity was judged to have been severe in 43%, moderate in 49%, and mild in 8% of these 107 patients. Mutism and ataxia were the features most frequently judged as severe. In both cohorts, preoperative brainstem invasion was the only feature that correlated with risk of CMS. One year after diagnosis, nonmotor speech/language deficits, neurocognitive deficits, and/or ataxia persisted in a significant fraction of patients.
Nearly one quarter of patients who underwent resection of a medulloblastoma developed symptoms of CMS, of which 92% were judged to be of moderate or severe intensity. Brainstem invasion by tumor was the only risk factor that correlated positively with CMS occurrence; there was a negative correlation with cerebellar hemisphere tumor location. As more radical resections are attempted for medulloblastoma, the potential for increased morbidity must be carefully weighed against prognostic factors, especially in patients with brainstem invasion.