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Craniopharyngioma Defined

Originally published on April 18, 2011
Most recently updated on May 13, 2016

A craniopharyngioma is a slow-growing tumor that can grow for many years before being found. It can be solid and/or cystic (a closed pouch or sac that contains fluid), and it may contain calcified nodules (a growth or lump that has hardened due to deposits of calcium). A cystic tumor may also contain some solid material or debris and often contains very high amounts of protein. It is normally found near the pituitary gland and hypothalamus, the areas of the brain that control hormones. Although they are considered benign (non-cancerous) since they do not spread, treatment is still necessary.

Types of Craniopharyngioma

Craniopharyngioma rarely spreads and consequently is not divided into stages or types.

Symptoms of Craniopharyngioma

Symptoms caused by craniopharyngioma can be general or specific. General symptoms are due to pressure build up in the brain, while specific symptoms are due to where in the brain the tumor is located.

General symptoms include:

- Headaches, which may be severe and may be worse in the early morning
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Difficulty with balance
- Increased sleepiness or fatigue
- Mood or behavior changes

Location-specific symptoms include:

- Vision changes, blurriness, or loss of peripheral vision
- Excessive thirst
- Increased urination
- Slow or halted growth
- Excessive weight gain
- Early or delayed puberty

Common Treatments:

Surgery is the most common form of treatment for craniopharyngioma and 70-85% patient’s tumors can be completely removed. However, occasionally, due to the location of the tumor not all of it can be removed. Surgery can be followed by radiation therapy if not all of the cancer is removed. Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. Radiation therapy to the brain must be administered carefully because it can cause growth and developmental delays in children. One technique used to avoid this is radiosurgery, which is a way to deliver a single, high dose of radiation therapy to the tumor while sparing other areas of the brain. This technique requires a head frame to help to localize the tumor, so doctors know exactly where to deliver the radiation treatment.

Clinical Trials are another treatment option in which new treatment methods are being tested to find out if the new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment. More than 60% of children with cancer are treated as a part of a clinical trial.


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