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Pineal Region Tumors Defined

Originally published on January 22, 2013
Most recently updated on April 10, 2013

The pineal gland, a small gland located in the back of the base of the brain, creates the neurotransmitters melatonin and serotonin, although its purpose is not entirely clear.

Types:
•    Germ cell tumors, which arise from developmental abnormalities
•    Pineal cell tumors, which come from the cells of the pineal gland itself

Symptoms:
•    Hydrocephalus, or an increased pressure in the skull that blocks the flow of cerebrospinal fluid.     Hydrocephalus often causes other symptoms such as headaches, nausea, vomiting and altered mental status.
•    Compression to part of the brain that may cause abnormal eye movement, double vision, uncoordinated body movement or unsteady gait.
•    Disruptions in the endocrine system, the system that controls hormones and includes the pineal gland.

Common Treatments:
The first line of treatment for pineal region tumors is surgery. The extent of the surgical removal is a significant factor in outcome. In addition, the surgical removal of the tumor will provide tissue samples, which are analyzed under a microscope to provide an accurate diagnosis. If hydrocephalus is present, a shunt (a tube that allows cerebrospinal fluid to flow out) may be placed prior to surgery. In the case of benign tumors, complete resection usually provides a cure.

For malignant tumors, the removal of as much of the tumor as possible is thought to improve outcome and response to adjuvant therapy.

Some germ cell tumors respond very well to radiation therapy, and chemotherapy may have a role in the treatment of some tumor types.

Stereotactic radiosurgery, which involves the use of a highly focused beam of radiation to target the cancer cells specifically and leave the surrounding brain unaffected, also may be used in the case of small tumors.

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