A chordoma is a relatively uncommon type of bone cancer (sarcoma) that can develop in the skull base or spine. Although the tumors are generally slow-growing, they can be challenging to treat due to their critical location, particularly if the cancer has invaded nearby nerve tissues. Chordomas also tend to recur and can spread to other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes, lungs, liver, other bones and skin.
The team in Tampa General Hospital’s Neuroscience Institute and the Center for Skull Base Surgery includes globally acclaimed experts in open skull base surgery, endoscopic endonasal surgery and radiation treatment for skull base chordomas. Our multidisciplinary approach ensures comprehensive care beginning with the initial diagnosis and continuing through surgery and postoperative radiation therapy.
What Can Cause a Chordoma?
Chordomas originate in the cells of the notochord, a structure that is present in a developing embryo. Essential for spinal formation, the notochord normally disappears by the time the fetus reaches eight weeks of gestational age, but sometimes a few notochord cells remain embedded in the bones of the skull base or spine.
Researchers have discovered that an inherited duplication of the TBXT gene or mutations in the TBXT gene may trigger the growth of notochord cells and lead to the formation of a chordoma.
General chordoma symptoms include pain, numbness and muscle weakness in the back, arms and legs. As a chordoma grows, it may begin to press on the brain or spinal cord. The resulting symptoms, which can vary depending on the location of the tumor, may include:
- Double vision
- Blurred vision
- Facial pain and numbness
How Is a Chordoma Diagnosed?
If a chordoma is suspected based on the symptoms, a physician will typically:
- Take a full medical history
- Perform a physical examination
- Perform a neurological examination
- Order diagnostic imaging tests, such as X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans
Additionally, a needle or surgical biopsy must be performed to conclusively diagnose a chordoma.
Chordoma Treatment Options
Surgery is the main form of treatment for chordomas. While the goal is to remove the entire tumor (en bloc resection), this is often not possible for skull base chordomas that are situated near critical structures, such as the brainstem, cranial nerves and spinal cord. Therefore, the neurosurgeon will aim to remove as much of the tumor as is safely possible.
Although chordomas tend to be resistant to chemotherapy and radiation therapy, these treatments may be performed along with surgery to help prevent a recurrence.
Choose TGH for World-Class Care
The compassionate team of chordoma and skull base surgery experts at TGH provides safe, precise and personalized care for our patients. If you would like to schedule an appointment, contact us at (800) 822-3627.