Craniopharyngiomas

Craniopharyngiomas are congenital brain tumors that usually affect infants and children. The average age of children affected with these tumors is seven to 12 years old. These tumors are often benign and are relatively rare, accounting for less than five percent of all childhood brain tumors.

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Symptoms

Cranipharyngiomas are often located near the brain's optic nerves and pituitary gland (a gland that releases chemicals important for the body's growth and metabolism). 

Symptoms include vision changes, headache, weight gain and endocrine changes.

Causes and Risk Factors

They develop from cells left over from early fetal development.

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Diagnosis

To diagnose a craniopharyngioma brain tumor, a neurologist (a doctor with special additional training in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the brain, spinal cord and nerves) performs a complete examination, which may include a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or a computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan. An MRI usually finds low-grade tumors earlier than CT.

Depending on the patient's symptoms, specialized testing may be necessary, including tests of the field of vision, the sharpness of vision and hearing. If the results of other tests are not conclusive, an examination of the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord may be done. Cerebral angiography is rarely used to diagnose a brain tumor, but may be done before surgery. Chest X-rays may also be needed to determine if the tumor has spread from another part of the body.

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Treatments

Because of their location close to vital parts of the brain, surgical removal is often difficult. However, surgery is the usual treatment for these tumors. Radiation therapy may also be used.