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What Is a Craniopharyngioma?

In many cases, craniopharyngiomas strike children yet cause no evident symptoms.
The human brain.
Article Details
  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 15 December 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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Craniopharyngioma is a challenging, generally benign tumor that occurs in the brain. Location is near the pituitary gland and the tumor often arises from cells that are present during fetal development, and that malfunction by overgrowing. This condition tends to occur in children but does occasionally present in adults too. Treating it is complicated due to the size of these tumors, which may grow well into other parts of the brain and affect many aspects of brain function.

As stated, craniopharyngioma is most often seen in children and early symptoms may or may not be noticed. Since there is impact on the pituitary gland, many different hormonal systems in the body can be affected. Some children show this by having slow growth and delayed sexual maturity.

The thyroid gland may not produce enough thyroid hormone, which might result in weight gain, fatigue, and poor concentration. The tumors are known for their propensity to grow over the areas of the brain that control vision, and rapid growth of a craniopharyngioma often corresponds to deficits in sight, particularly side sight or peripheral vision. Depending on where else the tumor is present within the brain’s structures, other symptoms, like nausea, headache, and balance issues could be present too.

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Diagnosis of craniopharyngioma may be made by performing several scans that can show presence of a tumor. These could include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT scan), and simple x-rays. A constellation of symptoms like those described above, usually help point to the need for consultation with a neurologist.

There are several potential methods for treating craniopharyngioma. In ideal circumstances the tumor is small and is easily removed through the nasal passages. Circumstances aren’t always ideal because the tumor can have spread to other parts of the brain, requiring much more extensive surgery that may not fully remove the tumor. When the latter scenario is in place, doctors may decide on a combination of surgery and radiation treatment. Sometimes radiation is used first to attempt to shrink the tumor, and in some circumstances doctors recommend radiation only, or a combination of radiation and chemotherapy.

Given variation in sizes of a craniopharyngioma, commentary on specific success or survival rate is highly inappropriate. Many people do have good success with one or more of the treatment options discussed, and some people will have continued brain impairment or experience some regrowth of a tumor. It is important to remember that these tumors are benign, which means cancer will not metastasize and spread to other areas of the body. Still, treatment can be challenging and children and their families will require much support, medically and emotionally.

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