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Patient looking at scans of brain

A skull base tumor is a noncancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant) growth that develops in the area of the skull below the brain and behind the eyes and nose. As is the case with most cancers, there is no one identifiable cause of skull base tumors—instead, scientists believe multiple genetic and environmental factors can contribute to tumor growth. In other cases, skull base tumors appear to occur sporadically without any apparent cause.

Skull base tumor risk factors 

Anything that increases the likelihood of experiencing a certain medical condition is known as a risk factor. There is still much to learn about the mechanisms behind tumor growth, but researchers have identified a few key risk factors for skull base tumors:  

Genetic conditions

Some skull base tumors are tied to certain inherited genetic conditions, most notably neurofibromatosis type 2, multiple endocrine neoplasia 1 (MEN1) and family isolated pituitary adenoma (FIPA). Bilateral acoustic neuromas, paragangliomas (also called carotid body tumors) and pituitary tumors are the types of skull base tumors that are most often associated with genetic conditions.

Exposure to toxic chemicals

Prolonged exposure to certain chemicals and substances may increase a person’s risk of developing a skull base tumor. Some research links tumor growth to:

  • Vinyl chloride
  • Herbicides
  • Arsenic 

Workplace exposure to wood dust, leather or heavy metals is also considered a risk factor for certain skull base tumors, particularly nasal and sinus cancers.

Previous radiation treatment 

Radiation therapy is a powerful tool against many complex head, neck and brain cancers as well as certain scalp infections. However, receiving radiation therapy to the head may leave an individual more likely to develop a skull base tumor.

It’s important to remember that skull base tumors are uncommon, and having one or more of these risk factors does not mean that a diagnosis is inevitable. Conversely, it’s possible to develop a skull base tumor without having any known risk factors.

Our approach to skull base tumors 

World-class diagnostics and treatment for skull base tumors can be found at Moffitt Cancer Center. Our Neuro-Oncology Program is led by neurosurgeons, medical oncologists, head and neck surgeons, neurologists and other experts who focus exclusively on neurological tumors, both malignant and benign. As one of the highest-volume cancer centers in the country, our multispecialty team possesses a unique level of experience diagnosing and treating complex and uncommon skull base tumors. It’s this expertise—combined with our leading-edge treatment options and clinical trials—that allows us to achieve more positive outcomes and improved quality of life for the patients we serve.  

In addition to clinical treatment and supportive care, Moffitt excels in advanced genetic counseling and testing services. Our team of board-certified genetic counselors is available to consult with patients about their hereditary risk of malignant and benign skull base tumors, as well as more common conditions like breast, ovarian and colorectal cancers.

People who would like to consult with a Moffitt physician about their individual skull base tumor risks, symptoms or treatment options can call 1-888-663-3488 or submit a new patient registration form online. As Florida’s top-ranked cancer hospital, we're prioritizing rapid access to advanced cancer care with our specialists. 

Medically reviewed by Andre Beer Furlan, MD, PhD, skull base and endovascular neurosurgeon.