Definition: A craniopharyngioma is a benign tumor that occurs at the base of the brain near the pituitary gland, optic nerves and third ventricle. This type of tumor grows slowly and can become quite large before it causes symptoms.
Symptoms: Initial symptoms of a craniopharyngioma often involve visual loss due to compression of the optic nerves. This type of tumor can also affect the pituitary gland, a small structure attached to the brain that secretes chemicals (hormones) that influence the functioning of organs throughout the body. Compression of the pituitary gland can cause a myriad of symptoms such as obesity, lethargy, and problems with growth and development. Symptoms such as headache, nausea, vomiting, vision problems, and changes in behavior can occur and are usually due to increased intracranial pressure from hydrocephalus, a build-up of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain due to blockage of its flow.
Evaluation: Craniopharyngiomas are evaluated with MRI or CT scans. Visual field testing (perimetry) may be recommended to assess for and monitor vision loss. Blood tests may be ordered to evaluate the functioning of the pituitary gland.
- Surgery: Surgical removal is the treatment of choice for craniopharyngiomas.
- Radiation: Fractionated radiation or radiosurgery may be recommended if complete surgical removal of the visible tumor is not possible or for recurrent tumors.
Follow-up: Long-term follow-up with regular brain scans is recommended to watch for tumor recurrence.