Craniopharyngiomas are tumors that can damage the hypothalamus, a gland at the base of your brain. Considered relatively rare, these tumors can occur in children and adults. Though benign (noncancerous), these tumors can be large, causing problems for the areas of the brain they pressure. Often these tumors interfere with the pituitary gland and the optic nerve.
The exact cause of craniopharyngiomas is not known, but scientists think they develop from a structure that is present before birth. If the structure does not go away after birth, it can become a tumor.
Craniopharyngiomas occur most often in children under 14 and in adults over 45 years old. It is unclear why, but they seem to be more common in African-American patients.
Depending on the location of the craniopharyngioma, people can experience different symptoms. If the tumor affects the pituitary gland, it can cause there to be too much or too little of one or more hormones.
Craniopharyngiomas can cause:
- Diabetes insipidus
- Problems controlling body temperature
- Behavior problems
Patients with possible craniopharyngiomas will need a complete pituitary hormonal evaluation (prolactin, cortisol, ACTH, IGF-1, LH, FSH, testosterone and estradiol, free T4 and TSH as needed) and an MRI scan to verify diagnosis.
The first goal is to remove the craniopharyngioma with surgery. Many of these tumors can be removed through the nose, using a method called transsphenoidal surgery. Because these tumors tend to stick to important nerves and blood vessels, they can be difficult to completely remove. Total removal is successful in about half of the patients with craniopharyngiomas.
If the removal of the tumor is incomplete, you will be sent to a radiation specialist for radiation therapy to prevent further tumor growth. You will continue to get checkups and MRIs for several years to make sure the therapy has been successful. You may also need hormone replacement therapy and regular testing of hormone levels.
The OHSU Pituitary Center is a leader in new treatments for pituitary disorders. This includes the latest surgery techniques to remove pituitary tumors with less discomfort, allowing you to recover faster. Our neurosurgeons at OHSU perform more than 100 pituitary tumor and skull base surgeries every year. If you need radiation therapy, the OHSU Pituitary Center uses the most advanced equipment available.
You will continue to get checkups and MRIs for several years to make sure the therapy has been successful. You may also need hormone replacement therapy and regular testing of hormone levels.
Clinical trials are the final step in a long process of research. These studies allow scientists to test the value of their research to diagnose, treat and prevent diseases and disabilities. Each clinical trial is an opportunity to test a promising invention or treatment.
The OHSU Pituitary Center is a national leader in research related to pituitary conditions.
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