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Craniopharyngiomas are benign (non-cancerous) tumors that most commonly occur in children and older adults. These tumors grow near the pituitary gland and hypothalamus, two structures of the brain that control the production and release of hormones. While craniopharyngiomas are benign and cannot spread to other parts of the body, these tumors can affect the function of the pituitary gland and other nearby structures of the brain, such as the optic nerve, as they grow.

The cause of these tumors is not well understood. There is initial evidence pointing towards cell changes during the early stages of embryo development in pregnancy that may result in further abnormal transformation of cells and tumor growth.

Symptoms of craniopharyngiomas

Many times, patients won’t report symptoms of craniopharyngiomas until the tumor has grown large enough to increase pressure on the brain, most specifically on the pituitary gland and optic nerve. Compression of the optic nerves, which are responsible for vision, can cause visual disturbances and gradual vision loss. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Excess thirst and urination (diabetes insipidus)
  • Delayed puberty and slow growth in children
  • Sleepiness
  • Changes in personality or mood
  • Decreased sexual drive
  • Absent menses (amenorrhea)
  • Blurry vision
  • Loss of vision in one eye
  • Headaches
  • Mood swings
  • Weight gain
  • Loss of balance
  • Nausea and vomiting

Very large tumors may affect the normal flow of the fluid surrounding the brain (cerebrospinal fluid) causing hydrocephalus, increase pressure on the brain, headaches, nausea and vomiting.

Diagnosing craniopharyngiomas

Craniopharyngiomas are identified using a variety of diagnostic measures. These include:

  • Blood tests or urinalysis. This can indicate if there is a hormone imbalance that could be due to a tumor pressing on the pituitary gland.
  • MRIs and CT scans. These imaging tests can produce detailed images of the brain to determine if a craniopharyngioma is present. (It can also rule out other pituitary tumors.)
Moffitt Cancer Center’s approach to treating craniopharyngiomas

Moffitt Cancer Center can diagnose and treat craniopharyngiomas and other skull base tumors within our Neuro-Oncology Program. Our patients are treated by some of the top specialists in their fields who take pride in providing individualized treatment plans and highly specialized service.

Treatment options depend on several factors including patient’s age, general health, symptoms, tumor size, tumor location, and prior treatments. Treatment options include surgery (endoscopic endonasal, minimally invasive or open conventional surgery), radiation therapy, chemotherapy or biologic therapy. Hormone therapy is often required to replace various hormones no longer secreted as a result of tumor invasion or treatment.

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

If you have questions about craniopharyngiomas or would like to schedule a consultation at Moffitt Cancer Center, please reach out today. You can call us at 1-888-663-3488 or submit a new patient registration form online.