Craniopharyngioma is a rare type of noncancerous tumor that develops at the base of the brain near the pituitary gland. Craniopharyngiomas may not cause any symptoms when they are small. As craniopharyngiomas grow, they can cause problems with eyesight and with hormone levels.
Craniopharyngioma tumors usually grow near the base of the brain near the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is a pea-sized gland that produces hormones that help the body grow, produce urine, regulate temperature and regulate activity of organs and tissues in the body. A craniopharyngioma can put pressure on critical surrounding brain structures such as the pituitary gland. This can result in the pituitary gland producing too much or not enough hormones.
These rare, noncancerous tumors can occur at any age but are most commonly diagnosed in children ages 5 to 10.
Baptist Health is known for advanced, superior care of people with brain tumors and the diagnosis, management and treatment of craniopharyngioma. Our 24/7 inpatient neurology and neurosurgery services, as well as our outpatient services, Home Health and occupational therapy services are available to help treat people with craniopharyngioma. In addition, we have the region’s only advanced 3Tesla MRI, MRI spectroscopy and functional MRI technology as well as cranial spinal radiation including stereotactic radiosurgery to accurately diagnose all manner of neurologic disease, including craniopharyngioma.
You will appreciate timely appointments and a professional, friendly atmosphere where we take time to listen to your concerns. At Baptist Health, you have access to the region’s most comprehensive, multidisciplinary team of specialists and innovative therapies, including many available only through specialized clinical trials. In every way, we work to demonstrate the utmost in excellent care to those who trust us with their health.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms of craniopharyngioma depend upon the size of the tumor and can include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Headache that won’t go away
- Confusion and personality change
- Balance and walking problems
- Vision problems
- Excessive thirst and urination
- Problems with growth
- Delayed puberty
To determine if someone has craniopharyngioma, we use advanced diagnostic procedures and technology to effectively diagnose, inform treatment and carefully monitor the condition. Diagnostic procedures can include:
Blood test: Blood tests check for low or high levels of hormones produced by the pituitary gland.
Computerized tomography (CT) scan: This test uses X-rays and computers to create images of the brain and spine. Sometimes, contrast dye is injected to make abnormalities easier to see.
Eye test: An eye doctor may recognize a pattern of vision loss that is particular to craniopharyngioma.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI):A large magnet, radio waves and a computer are used to produce detailed pictures of the spine and brain.
Pituitary function test: Hormones produced by the pituitary gland can be checked during a blood test. Or, a physician may inject some insulin and measure changes in hormone levels produced by the pituitary gland.
The exact cause of craniopharyngioma is unknown.
There are no known risk factors for craniopharyngioma.
There is no known way to prevent craniopharyngioma.
Craniopharyngioma can be difficult to cure in some patients and sometimes the goal is long term management of the tumor rather than cure. The age of the person and the treatment used for the craniopharyngioma contribute to recovery. Early diagnosis and treatment lead to a better outcome.
Treatment and Recovery
Treatment of craniopharyngioma may include surgery and non-surgical treatments:
Surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible is typically prescribed, but depends upon the age and health of the person and the size and location of the tumor. New minimally invasive and microsurgical techniques allow surgeons to remove previously inaccessible tumors and perform surgeries with fewer side effects. Multiple surgeries may be necessary if the tumor recurs. Depending on the procedure, recovery may take weeks to months, and some degree of temporary or permanent nerve damage may occur.
In some patients with craniopharyngioma, radiation treatments may be recommended. This treatment uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells. The radiation is directed specifically to where the tumor is in the spine or brain. Most often, radiation treatments are given five days a week for several weeks.
Craniopharyngioma and its treatment can cause complications, including:
Vison and nerve problems: Depending upon the size and location of the tumor, problems may occur with vision and the nervous system.
Hydrocephalus: Depending on the size and location of the tumor, problems may develop with controlling pressure in their brain.
Growth problems: Because the tumor affects the pituitary gland, growth problems and delayed puberty may result.
Pituitary gland problems: The tumor and surgery may cause problems with hormone production. Hormone replacement therapy can be prescribed to increase low hormone levels.
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