Craniopharyngiomas

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A craniopharyngioma usually develops near the pituitary gland at the base of the brain.

A craniopharyngioma is a relatively rare, benign tumor that develops near the pituitary gland at the base of the brain. One type of craniopharyngioma occurs in adults, but they are also commonly seen in children between 5 and 14 years of age and affect boys and girls equally.

Although they’re benign, craniopharyngiomas can behave a bit like malignancies — when they grow they can press on and sometimes invade nearby healthy brain tissue. They can press on the optic nerves and cause problems with vision or invade the hypothalamus and pituitary gland and cause problems with hormones. (see Symptoms of Craniopharyngioma). The tumor can usually be successfully removed surgically, but it sometimes recurs and so patients must be monitored carefully in the years after surgery (see Surgery for a Craniopharyngioma).

What Causes Craniopharyngiomas?
Researchers don’t know exactly how or why these tumors occur, but they are thought to develop out of cells left over during fetal development — possibly from a structure called the Rathke pouch. There does not seem to be any genetic cause, and the tumors don’t run in families. There is no known way to prevent a craniopharyngioma.

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Reviewed by: Jeffrey Greenfield, M.D., Ph.D., and
Theodore Schwartz, M.D.
Last reviewed/last updated: January 2015
Illustration by Thom Graves, CMI