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Cerebellar mutism is a common complication of posterior fossa surgery in children. This article reviews current status with respect to incidence, anatomical substrate, pathophysiology, risk factors, surgical considerations, treatment options, prognosis and prevention.
We reviewed all peer-reviewed English publications on cerebellar mutism between the years of 1985 and 2009. The majority were found by searching for ‘cerebellar mutism’ and ‘posterior fossa syndrome’ in PubMed. Additional cases were identified by cross-checking reference lists.
The overall incidence of postoperative cerebellar mutism is 11–29%, and patients with medulloblastomas and/or brainstem invasion are at a greater risk of developing it than those with other kinds of tumors and/or without brainstem invasion. Permanent sequelae in the form of both motor- and non-motor-related speech deficits are common, especially when the right cerebellar hemisphere is involved. The mutism is caused by bilateral pertubation of the dentate nuclei and their efferent pathways, which emphasizes the need to explore surgical methods that spare these structures. The pathophysiological mechanisms of delayed onset and resolution of cerebellar mutism are not clear, but axonal damage, edema, perfusional defects and metabolic disturbances may be involved.
The incidence of cerebellar mutism is well documented in children with medulloblastoma, but precise figures for those with astrocytoma and ependymoma are lacking. Further anatomical, functional imaging and neuropsychological studies are needed to clarify the pathophysiological mechanisms in order to define preventive measures during surgery. Randomized, controlled trials of the effects of different medication and post-operative speech therapy are necessary for improving treatment.
KeywordsCerebellar mutism Brain tumor Posterior fossa surgery Children Speech disorder Review
This study received financial support from The Childhood Cancer Foundation, Denmark. Kjeld Schmiegelow holds the Danish Childhood Cancer Foundation Professorship in Pediatric Oncology. The authors wish to thank Dr. Flemming Finn Madsen for his assistance in the preparation of the manuscript.
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