Craniopharyngiomas

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Diagnosing and Treating a Craniopharyngioma

Anyone with the symptoms of a craniopharyngioma should have a thorough neurological examination along with blood tests to check hormone levels. If a tumor is suspected, the patient will likely have imaging tests done:

Computerized tomography (CT) is a noninvasive procedure that uses x-rays to produce an image of the brain. It often makes use of a contrast agent (a dye) to sharpen the image.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans are the best tools for diagnosing a craniopharyngioma. An MRI uses magnetic fields and radio-frequency waves to create an image of the brain, and can reveal the presence of a tumor.

If a craniopharyngioma is suspected, the patient should be referred to a neurological surgeon at a major medical center who has experience with pediatric brain tumors and craniopharyngioma in children (see Doctors Who Treat Craniopharyngiomas). At one of these centers, the doctor will also probably request that the child sees a pediatric neuro-ophthalmologist and a pediatric endocrinologist.  

Surgery to remove the tumor is the most common treatment for craniopharyngioma. A pediatric neurosurgeon may perform a surgical biopsy first to extract a piece of the tumor to confirm that it is in fact a craniopharyngioma. In some cases, the diagnosis can be confirmed during the biopsy, and the surgeon will then continue the surgery and remove as much of the tumor as possible. In other cases, the surgeon may recommend radiation first to reduce the size of the tumor, making it easier to remove (see Surgery for 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