A craniopharyngioma is a tumour which generally occurs just above the pituitary gland. Located at the bottom of the brain, the pituitary gland is about the size of a pea and controls many vital functions. Craniopharyngiomas result from the growth of cells that early in foetal development have failed to migrate to their usual area.
Craniopharyngiomas are benign tumours that do not spread; they can be solid, cystic (full of fluid), calcified or full of debris. They are slow-growing tumours that can take two to three years or longer to manifest themselves before a diagnosis is made. They can cause serious problems by interfering with important structures near them.
Craniopharyngiomas represent 5–10% of childhood brain tumours with about 30 cases in children a year in the UK. They also occur in adults. There is no known cause.
Signs and symptoms
Symptoms result either from the tumour blocking the flow of fluid surrounding the brain (resulting in increased intracranial pressure) or from direct pressure and damage on the pituitary gland or optic nerves. Symptoms may include:
- headaches and nausea or vomiting
- hormone disturbances
- disturbed sleep patterns
- visual disturbance
- behavioural changes
- slow growth
- increased sensitivity to cold or heat
- early or delayed puberty
- appetite and weight variations.
Tests and investigations
Doctors will need to carry out some tests to find out as much as possible about the type, position and size of the tumour. This will help them decide on the best treatment for your child. These tests include:
- CT scan
- MRI scan
- ophthalmic assessment
- endocrine assessment.