A craniopharyngioma is a relatively rare, benign tumor that develops near the pituitary gland at the base of the brain. Craniopharyngiomas occur in both adults and children and affect males and females 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). However, with complete surgical removal, craniopharyngiomas can be cured and the goal of treatment is either cure or lifelong tumor control.
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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- Chairman and Neurosurgeon-in-Chief
- Margaret and Robert J. Hariri, MD ’87, PhD ’87 Professor of Neurological Surgery
- Vice Provost of Business Affairs and Integration
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- David and Ursel Barnes Professor in Minimally Invasive Surgery
- Professor of Neurosurgery, Neurology, and Otolaryngology
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- Feil Family Brain and Mind Research Institute
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- Professor of Clinical Neurological Surgery
- Robert G. Schwager, MD ’67 Education Scholar, Cornell University
- Chief of Neurological Surgery, NewYork-Presbyterian Queens
- Co-director, Weill Cornell Medicine CSF Leak Program
- Chief of Neurological Surgery, NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist
- Alvina and Willis Murphy Associate Professor, Neurological Surgery
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- Co-director, William Rhodes and Louise Tilzer-Rhodes Center for Glioblastoma
- Vice Chairman, Neurological Surgery
- Director, Pediatric Neurological Surgery
- Associate Professor of Clinical Neurological Surgery
Reviewed by: Theodore Schwartz, M.D.
Last reviewed/last updated: September 2020
Illustration by Thom Graves, CMI