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Posterior Fossa Tumors Workup

  • Author: Hassan Ahmad Hassan Al-Shatoury, MD, PhD, MHPE; Chief Editor: Brian H Kopell, MD  more...
Updated: Oct 24, 2015

Laboratory Studies

Lab studies include the following:

  • Complete blood profile: Used for preoperative preparation, and as a diagnostic tool in some patients. In cases of hemangioblastoma, erythrocytosis may be found, presumably from erythropoietic factors secreted by the tumor.
  • Coagulation profile
  • Blood grouping
  • Renal function tests
  • Liver function tests
  • Tumor markers
    • A tumor marker is any substance that makes possible either a qualitative diagnosis of neoplasm or a quantitative estimate of tumor burden.
    • They are used for screening, for staging, and for evaluation of response to therapy and detection of early tumor recurrence.
    • Three examples of tumor markers include (1) carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA), (2) alpha-fetoprotein (AFP), and (3) placental proteins.
    • The diagnostic role of tumor markers is less crucial in the posterior cranial fossa than in other regions of the body because of the ability of MRI to clearly visualize distinctive characteristics, such as cysts.

Imaging Studies

Imaging modalities include the following:

  • Plain x-ray skull
    • It may show signs of chronic intracranial hypertension.
    • It may show calcification.
    • In case of a dermoid cyst, a bone defect with sclerotic margins may be detected.
  • CT scanning: CT scan of the posterior fossa is inferior to MRI in diagnostic value because of the artifact produced from the surrounding thick bone. However, CT scan is helpful for postoperative follow-up.
  • Cerebral angiography
    • Cerebral angiography is useful to assess the vascular supply of the tumor.
    • With the wide availability of MRI, cerebral angiography is no longer used as the first option in brain tumor assessment.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
    • MRI appearance of cerebellar astrocytoma
      • Intra-axial, either midline or hemispheric, mass
      • Prominent cystic component that is hypointense in T1-weighted images and slightly hyperintense in T2-weighted images (more protein content)
      • Mural nodule, usually enhanced in T2 images
      • Displacement of effacement of the fourth ventricle
      • Hydrocephalic changes due to obstruction of the CSF pathway
      • Nodule that usually is enhanced with contrast
      • Cystic wall that may or may not enhance
      • Heterogenicity and calcification, rarely found
    • MRI appearance of PNET
      • Intraventricular midline or paramedian mass that is isointense in T1 images
      • Prominent enhancement with intravenous contrast
      • May appear heterogeneous on MRI, with areas of cystic degeneration and central necrosis
      • Infrequently, calcification, eccentric location, and lack of enhancement
    • MRI appearance of ependymomas
      • Commonly found intraventricularly
      • Calcification found in 45% of cases
      • Plastic ependymomas that can extend through the foramina of Magendie and Luschka to compress the craniocervical junction and/or the brain stem
      • Extension to the cerebellopontine angle that is pathognomonic of ependymomas
      • Enhance with intravenous contrast
      • May be heterogeneous in character
    • MRI appearance of posterior fossa hemangioblastoma
      • Appears as a cystic mass with pial-based mural nodule that is slightly hyperintense and enhanced prominently with intravenous contrast
      • Appearing as regions of signal void on spin-echo images, abnormal vessels that may be found adjacent or within the tumor
      • Cyst that may be isointense or hyperintense on T1- and T2-weighted images
      • Cyst wall that often is sharply delimited
      • Variation of MRI appearance, including presence of hemorrhage in the cyst, solid rather than cystic mass, multiple lesions, and associated syrinx cavity
    • MRI appearance of posterior fossa choroids plexus papilloma
      • Intraventricular mass with lobulated margin
      • Hypointense on T1 images
      • Patchy regions of hypointensity that express calcification and hypervascularity
      • Region of hyperintensity on T2 images (calcification and old hemorrhage)
      • Prominent enhancement with intravenous contrast
      • Tumor extension through foramina of Luschka or Magendie into the basal cisterns
      • Commonly, hydrocephalic changes
    • MRI appearance of posterior fossa dermoid cyst
      • Hyperintense on T1 images and hypointense on T2 images
      • Midline mass

Other Tests


Brainstem auditory evoked response (BAER) specifically is helpful as an intraoperative monitor of brainstem function. Abnormal response alerts the surgeon about potential danger that, in most cases, can be reversed early.


Histologic Findings

Histologic findings include the following:

  • Cerebellar astrocytoma
    • Pilocytic subtype (61%): Most astrocytes found in the tumor are fibrillary, with round-to-oval nuclei with some cytoplasmic pleomorphism and Rosenthal fibers. A honeycomb pattern (area with densely and areas with loosely cellular appearance) is present. Malignant transformation is uncommon.
    • Infiltrative fibrillary type (28%): It usually occurs in adults. It displays the histological features of anaplasia.
  • Anaplastic astrocytoma (11%): More anaplastic features are present.
  • Medulloblastoma
    • Grossly, it appears as a soft and friable mass. Area of necrosis and focal hemorrhage may be present.
    • Calcification is uncommon.
    • The tumor may infiltrate the brainstem and adjacent cerebellar structures in 30% of patients.
    • Dissemination through the subarachnoid space is common. Metastatic lesions are present in 50% of patients at autopsy.
    • The tumor appears highly cellular with round-to-oval cells.
    • Cytoplasm is scant, and hyperchromic nuclei are present. With hematoxylin and eosin staining, it appears as a blue tumor.
    • Homer-Wright rosettes and pseudorosettes are commonly present, suggesting neuronal differentiation.
  • Ependymomas (3 classic histological features)
    • Uniform-appearing cells are arranged around a vessel, forming perivascular pseudorosettes.
    • A true ependymal rosette is present.
    • Cells contain blepharoplasts (basal bodies of cilia).
  • Ependymoblastoma (histological features of malignancy)
    • Cytoplasmic and nuclear pleomorphisms are present.
    • Nuclear hyperchromatism occurs.
    • Excessive mitosis occurs.
    • Necrosis is present.
    • Cytoarchitectural disorganization is present.
  • Choroid plexus papilloma
    • Gross picture: It is a reddish mass with an irregular surface.
    • Microscopic picture:
    • Cuboidal epithelial cells similar to the normal choroids plexus are present.
  • Hemangioblastoma
    • Macroscopic picture: It is yellow to pink in color. The mural nodule is found touching the pial surface of the cerebellum. In 20% of cases, the dura is involved. The cystic wall and its contents may be yellow or white.
    • Microscopic picture: Benign cellular proliferation, with formation of vascular channels, occurs. Reticulin-rich stromal network and (fat-laden) cells are characteristic.
Contributor Information and Disclosures

Hassan Ahmad Hassan Al-Shatoury, MD, PhD, MHPE Associate Professor, Department of Neurosurgery, Suez Canal University; Co-Director, Center of Research and Development in Medical Education and Health Services Suez Canal University Hospital

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Herbert H Engelhard, III, MD, PhD, FACS Associate Professor, Chief, Division of Neuro-Oncology, Medical Director, UIC Neurosurgery Clinic, Department of Neurosurgery, University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine

Herbert H Engelhard, III, MD, PhD, FACS is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for Cancer Research, American Association of Neurological Surgeons, American College of Surgeons, American Medical Association, American Society for Cell Biology, American Society of Clinical Oncology, Chicago Medical Society, Chicago Neurological Society, Congress of Neurological Surgeons, Illinois State Medical Society, North American Spine Society, Society for Neuro-Oncology, Society for Neuroscience

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Ayman Ali Galhom, MD, PhD Lecturer (Associated Professor), Department of Neurosurgery, Suez Canal University Faculty of Medicine, Egypt

Ayman Ali Galhom, MD, PhD is a member of the following medical societies: Congress of Neurological Surgeons

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Chief Editor

Brian H Kopell, MD Associate Professor, Department of Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

Brian H Kopell, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Association of Neurological Surgeons, International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society, Congress of Neurological Surgeons, American Society for Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery, North American Neuromodulation Society

Disclosure: Received consulting fee from Medtronic for consulting; Received consulting fee from St Jude Neuromodulation for consulting; Received consulting fee from MRI Interventions for consulting.

Additional Contributors

Michael G Nosko, MD, PhD Associate Professor of Surgery, Chief, Division of Neurosurgery, Medical Director, Neuroscience Unit, Medical Director, Neurosurgical Intensive Care Unit, Director, Neurovascular Surgery, Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School

Michael G Nosko, MD, PhD is a member of the following medical societies: Academy of Medicine of New Jersey, Congress of Neurological Surgeons, Canadian Neurological Sciences Federation, Alpha Omega Alpha, American Association of Neurological Surgeons, American College of Surgeons, American Heart Association, American Medical Association, New York Academy of Sciences, Society of Critical Care Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Posterior fossa anatomy.
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