Is Craniopharyngioma a Brain Tumor?

Reviewed on 2/18/2022
Rendering of a brain tumor
Craniopharyngioma, a rare type of brain tumor, often develops in children and sometimes in older adults. Childhood craniopharyngiomas are benign (not cancerous) but they can grow and put pressure on parts of the brain. Craniopharyngiomas usually do not metastasize (spread).

Craniopharyngioma is a rare type of brain tumor found near the base of the brain, by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus. 

Craniopharyngiomas most commonly develop in children between the ages of 0 and 14 years, but adults aged 50 to 74 years can also develop these tumors.

Childhood craniopharyngiomas are benign (not cancerous) but they can grow and put pressure on parts of the brain, the pituitary gland, the optic chiasm, optic nerves, and can affect brain functions, hormone production, growth, and vision. 

Craniopharyngiomas do not usually spread (metastasize). 

What Are Symptoms of Craniopharyngioma?

Symptoms of craniopharyngiomas may develop suddenly, or they can develop more slowly and may include:

  • Headache
  • Vision changes/blurred vision
  • Loss of eyesight
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting
  • Balance problems
  • Difficulty walking
  • Limb weakness
  • Tiredness 
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Diabetes
  • Unusual sleepiness or changes in energy levels
  • Changes in personality or behavior
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Mood swings
  • Short stature or slow growth in children
  • Precocious puberty in children
  • Poor feeding, irritability, and an enlarged head (in babies)
  • Hearing loss
  • Weight gain
  • Forgetfulness
  • Difficulty getting an erection and irregular or absent periods in adults
  • Buildup of pressure in and around the brain, which can cause feeling or being sick 
  • Sleep disorders
  • Froelich’s syndrome: hypothalamic obesity (a type of obesity that occurs even with caloric restriction and lifestyle changes), delayed sexual development, and small testes
  • Neck pain

What Causes Craniopharyngioma?

Craniopharyngiomas are caused by malformations of embryonic tissue in the sellar and parasellar regions. It is unknown why this occurs and there are currently no proven risk factors for developing the condition. 

How Is Craniopharyngioma Diagnosed?

Craniopharyngioma is diagnosed with a patient history and physical examination, and tests such as:

  • Blood and urine tests to check hormone levels 
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan 
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan
  • Eye examinations
  • Biopsy 

What Is the Treatment for Craniopharyngioma?

The most common treatment for craniopharyngioma is surgery to remove all or part of the tumor. Craniopharyngiomas can be difficult to remove surgically, because they are usually located near multiple anatomical structures that can be damaged during surgery. 

Other treatments for craniopharyngioma include: 

  • Radiotherapy following surgery if the tumor was not able to be removed completely
    • Stereotactic radiotherapy 
    • Radiosurgery
    • Proton beam therapy
  • Hormone replacement therapy if there are changes in the levels of hormones. 

What Are Complications of Craniopharyngiomas?

Complications of craniopharyngiomas or their treatment include: 

  • Recurrence of the tumor requiring multiple surgeries
  • Damage to close anatomical structures, especially the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus
  • Cognition, memory, and attention deficits can be consequences of surgery
  • Damage to internal carotid arteries from radiation therapy 
    • This can lead to complications such as dilatation and weakening of blood vessel wall (aneurysm), and Moyamoya disease
  • Exposure to radiation is a risk factor for the development of brain tumors such as gliomas 


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Reviewed on 2/18/2022
Image Source: iStock Images