Craniopharyngioma in Children
Craniopharyngioma is a brain tumor
that’s not cancer (benign). A brain tumor is an abnormal growth of tissue under the
brain. The brain is part of the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS also includes
spinal cord. The main parts of the brain are:
- Forebrain. This part has the cerebrum.
The cerebrum has 2 sides, the right and left hemispheres. It controls thoughts,
emotions, speech, and movement. It also helps with understanding information from
senses. This includes seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, and feeling pain.
- Midbrain. This part organizes muscle
movement and helps to maintain posture, balance, and equilibrium.
- Hindbrain. This part includes the
midbrain, the pons, and the medulla. It is the part of the brain that connects to
spinal cord. It plays a part in controlling muscles and sensations from the body.
Part of the brainstem helps control breathing and the heartbeat. Many of the cranial
nerves start in the brain stem. The cranial nerves carry messages from different
parts of the body to the brain.
Brain tumors start in the cells of the brain. They can be either of the following:
Noncancer (benign). This kind of
tumor doesn’t contain cancer cells. In most cases, once a benign tumor is fully
removed, it often doesn’t grow back. Most benign brain tumors don’t grow into nearby
tissue. These tumors can cause symptoms by pressing on the brain.
Cancer (malignant). This kind of
tumor does contain cancer cells. Malignant brain tumors usually grow fast and grow
into nearby tissue. Malignant brain tumors don’t usually spread to other areas of
body. They may grow back after treatment.
Brain tumors can occur at any age. Brain tumors that occur in infants and children
are very different from adult brain tumors.
A craniopharyngioma is a benign
tumor that is found near the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is under the brain
but directly connected to it. It controls the production of many hormones in the
A craniopharyngioma is usually a mixture of both solid tissue and fluid-filled cysts.
The tumor is not cancer. It does not spread to other parts of the body. But as it
grows, it may press on parts of the brain and nearby tissue. This affects hormones,
vision, and other normal functions. For this reason, it needs to be treated. This
kind of tumor is most often found in boys and girls 5 to 14 years old.
Most brain tumors are caused by abnormal genes or chromosomes. Researchers don’t know
what causes them to be abnormal. Some chemicals may play a part in gene changes. Research
Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each child. The tumor can cause symptoms if
it begins to grow into or press on an area of the brain. The most common symptoms
- Headache that may go away after
- Vision changes
- Loss of balance
- Trouble walking
- Unusual changes in energy level
- Slow growth or delayed puberty
- Hearing loss
- Increase in thirst
- Increase in head size (in a baby)
- Mood or behavior changes
The symptoms of a craniopharyngioma
can be like other health conditions. Have your child see a healthcare provider for
The healthcare provider will ask
about your child's health history and symptoms. The provider will examine your child.
This will include a neurological exam. The exam tests reflexes, muscle strength, eye
mouth movement, and coordination. Your child may also have tests such as:
Vision test. This is to check for changes in or problems with vision.
CT scan. A CT scan uses a series of
X-rays and a computer to make detailed pictures of the body.
MRI. This test uses large
magnets, radio waves, and a computer to make detailed pictures of the body. Contrast
dye may be injected into your child's vein. It helps healthcare providers see tumor
cells more clearly.
Blood tests. Blood tests may be done
to check levels of hormones, such as thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), prolactin
(PRL), and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). These are secreted by the pituitary
Treatment will depend on your
child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the
A craniopharyngioma is usually
removed with surgery. In some cases, healthcare providers are not sure a tumor is
craniopharyngioma until surgery. The surgeon will see if the tumor can be removed
They may not be able to find this out before surgery.
In some cases, the surgeon isn’t
able to remove all the tumor with surgery. This is because of the risk of damaging
tissues in the head. These include the optic nerve, hypothalamus, and carotid artery.
surgeon will remove as much of the tumor as possible. Your child may then need radiation
therapy to shrink the rest of the tumor. This is usually done with external beam
therapy. This radiation is pointed at the body from a machine. In some cases, your
may need experimental chemotherapy if the tumor grows back after radiation.
Talk with your child’s healthcare
providers about the risks, benefits, and possible side effects of all treatments.
The tumor can be fully removed with surgery in 9 out of 10 children. In some cases,
there is a chance that the tumor will grow back, especially if all of it is not removed.
Most cases of the tumor growing back happen within 2 years of surgery.
A child may have other health
effects after treatment ends. Some common side effects of a craniopharyngioma include
vision loss, obesity, behavioral problems, memory loss, and the need for lifelong
hormone replacement. One common side effect is loss of posterior pituitary gland
function. This causes uncontrolled urination. It can be partly treated with hormonal
When to Call a Healthcare Provider
Call the healthcare provider if your child has:
- Symptoms that don’t get better or get
- New symptoms
- Side effects from treatment
- A craniopharyngioma is a noncancer (benign) tumor that is found near the pituitary
gland. The pituitary gland is connected to the brain. It controls the production of
many hormones in the body.
- As the tumor grows, it may press on parts of the brain and nearby tissue. This affects
hormones, vision, and other normal functions.
- The most common symptoms are headaches that may go away after vomiting, vision changes,
loss of balance, and trouble walking.
- Your child may have blood tests and imaging tests to diagnose the tumor. In some cases,
the type of tumor isn’t known until surgery.
- Treatment may include surgery and radiation. There may be some complications after
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
- Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
- Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
- At the visit, write down the name of a
new diagnosis and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new
instructions your provider gives you for your child.
- Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child.
Also know what the side effects are.
- Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
- Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
- Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
- If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose
for that visit.
- Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important
if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.