A craniopharyngioma is a slow-growing, noncancerous tumor that develops near the pituitary gland. Situated at the base of the brain, this pea-sized endocrine gland secretes hormones that help control many vital bodily functions. Although craniopharyngiomas can affect people of all ages, they are most frequently diagnosed in young children. The tumors may be fluid-filled or solid and can potentially grow very large, sometimes extending into both sides of the brain.

Due to their critical location, craniopharyngiomas can be difficult to reach and challenging to treat. For expert brain tumor treatment, many patients turn to Tampa General Hospital, which has been ranked in the top 10% of U.S. hospitals for Neurology and Neurosurgery by U.S. News & World Report for 2023-24. Together, Tampa General Hospital’s Neuroscience Institute and Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Institute feature a multidisciplinary team that offers the latest treatment options for craniopharyngiomas and other types of skull base tumors.

What Can Cause a Craniopharyngioma?

Scientists have linked craniopharyngiomas to certain cells that are essential for the formation of the pituitary gland and normally present in a developing embryo. Most craniopharyngiomas are sporadic, which means they occur for unknown reasons. Additionally, there are no confirmed risk factors for these rare neural tumors.

What Are the Symptoms of a Craniopharyngioma?

A craniopharyngioma can interfere with the function of the pituitary gland and cause hormonal imbalances. Additionally, as the tumor grows, it may begin to press on sensitive nerves, blood vessels and brain tissues located nearby.

The symptoms can include:

  • Balance and coordination issues
  • Mental confusion, mood swings and behavioral changes
  • Headaches
  • Excessive thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Gradual vision changes
  • Slow growth and development (in children)

How Is a Craniopharyngioma Diagnosed?

Sometimes, a routine blood test or urinalysis will reveal a hormonal imbalance related to a problem with the pituitary gland. If a craniopharyngioma is suspected, a physician will typically review the patient’s medical history and perform a neurological examination to test the patient’s:

  • Vision
  • Hearing
  • Balance
  • Coordination
  • Reflexes
  • Growth
  • Development

The physician may also order imaging tests, such as computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. The resulting images can help the physician identify tumors and other abnormalities in the brain and pituitary gland and distinguish a craniopharyngioma from other types of pituitary tumors.

What Are the Treatment Options for a Craniopharyngioma?

Typically, a neurosurgeon, endocrinologist and other specialists will work together to develop a customized treatment plan for a craniopharyngioma, which may include surgery to remove the tumor. Some surgical treatment options include:

  • An open craniotomy – A surgeon will open the skull to access the tumor.
  • A minimally invasive transsphenoidal procedure – A surgeon will insert special surgical instruments through the nose to access the tumor without affecting the brain or skull.
  • An orbitozygomatic craniotomy – A surgeon will make an incision in the scalp behind the hairline and temporarily remove the bone that forms the contour of the orbit and cheek to access the tumor. After taking out the tumor, the surgeon will replace the removed bone.

The goal of surgical treatment is to remove the entire tumor, but that may not be possible due to the critical location of most craniopharyngiomas, which are situated near many important and delicate brain structures. To address the remaining portion of the tumor, other treatments may be administered after surgery, such as radiation therapy and hormone therapy.

Choose TGH for World-Class Care

The neurosurgeons and ENT surgeons at TGH are internationally known and respected for their expertise in both traditional and endoscopic approaches to skull base surgery. In affiliation with the University of South Florida, our team has been recognized as a Multidisciplinary Team of Distinction by the North American Skull Base Society, and we diagnose and treat all types of skull base tumors, including craniopharyngiomas.

If would like to talk with an expert at TGH, contact us at (800) 822-3627 to request an appointment.

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