A craniopharyngioma is a benign brain tumor that is formed during fetal development. This means that a patient is born with this tumor, but it is slow-growing and can take time for symptoms to develop, which tend to appear before age 14 or after age 45. These tumors are noncancerous and symptoms depend on the location and may relate to hormones. Treatment options include stereotactic radiosurgery at a Gamma Knife center, fractionated radiotherapy and craniopharyngioma surgery. Some patients also benefit from a combined treatment approach.
During embryonic development, a craniopharyngioma forms from cells that make up a portion of the pituitary gland (a part of the brain responsible for many hormones in the body). As the tumor grows, it may impinge on the pituitary gland, the optic canal and on the brain itself.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of a Craniopharyngioma
The symptoms a patient experiences depend on the area of the brain that is affected by the tumor. Craniopharyngioma symptoms tend to appear only after the tumor has grown large enough to put pressure on surrounding tissues and can include:
- Cognitive difficulties
- Nausea and vomiting
- Problems with balance
- Issues with vision
- Hormonal effects, such as excessive thirst and urination, obesity and stunted growth
A doctor may suspect a craniopharyngioma based on the patient’s symptoms. He or she will use diagnostic imaging, such as a computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), as well as blood endocrine levels and neurological exams to form a definitive diagnosis.
Treatment of Craniopharyngiomas
The treatment path that is most appropriate for a craniopharyngioma brain tumor will depend on factors such as age, as well as the size and location of the tumor. Common craniopharyngioma treatments include:
- Stereotactic Radiosurgery: Using specialized technology, such as the Leksell Gamma Knife®Icon™, a doctor can deliver a focused beam of radiation directly to the tumor, sparing healthy surrounding brain tissue.
- Fractionated Radiotherapy: Multiple doses of low-level radiation levels are administered to the craniopharyngioma, effectively stopping growth or shrinking the tumor.
- Craniopharyngioma Surgery: Traditional open surgery may be required to remove all or a portion of the tumor and can be combined with radiation therapy.