Many different tumor types originate from or extend into the base or bottom of the skull, upon which the brain rests. Because the front of the skull base slopes down behind the eyes and nasal cavities, skull base tumors require considerable surgical skill to avoid damage vital nerves and tissues. Skull base tumors may be benign or malignant and produce few symptoms until they grow large enough. Symptoms vary depending of the location and size of the tumor and may include facial pain or numbness, headache, recurrent sinusitis, cranial nerve palsies, nasal obstruction, shortness of breath, hoarseness, hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Increasingly, skull base tumors may be excised using endoscopic surgery through the nasal passages, but many still require open surgery. The tumor may be excised through traditional open surgery or endoscopic microsurgery through the nasal passages. In some causes, particularly when the entire tumor cannot be safely removed, surgery is followed by radiation therapy, which can be traditional or gamma knife surgery.
Most pituitary tumors are benign, which means they are non-cancerous, grow slowly and do not spread to other parts of the body. However, they may affect the pituitary gland’s hormone production, which can create problems in the body. Tumors that affect hormone production are called functioning tumors; tumors that don’t affect hormone production are called non-functioning tumors. Pituitary tumor symptoms materialize as the tumor grows and may include headaches, vision problems, nausea, and vomiting. Hormone disorders caused by functioning tumors will produce symptoms specific to the affected hormone production. Sometimes they can be treated by radiation alone. At other times, stereotactic radiosurgery or endoscopic surgery may be indicated. More information is available at www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/pituitary_tumors/pituitary_tumors.htm
Meningiomas are tumors of the meninges or coverings of the brain. The majority are benign. Acoustic neuromas and pituitary tumors are other common benign tumors. They may be treated with surgical removal, radiation or stereotactic radiosurgery using gamma knife technology. The type of treatment depends upon the size and location of the tumor, surrounding critical structures, and the patient’s general health and well-being.
Craniopharyngioma are benign slow-growing tumors, either solid or cyst, that arise from the stalk that connects the pituitary gland to the brain. Located behind the eyes, a craniopharyngioma may cause vision problems, headaches, nausea, and difficulty with balance if it exerts pressure on the brain. It also may interfere with the production of hormones from the pituitary gland. However, not all patients will experience symptoms.