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.
Our Care Team
- 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
- Vice Chair for Clinical Research
- David and Ursel Barnes Professor in Minimally Invasive Surgery
- Professor of Neurosurgery, Neurology, and Otolaryngology
- Director, Center for Epilepsy and Pituitary Surgery
- Co-Director, Surgical Neuro-oncology
- Assistant Professor of Neurological Surgery
- Leon Levy Research Fellow
- Feil Family Brain and Mind Research Institute
- Assistant Professor of Neuroendocrinology in Neurological Surgery, Weill Cornell Medicine
- Vice Chairman for Academic Affairs
- Professor of Neurological Surgery, Pediatric Neurosurgery
- Associate Residency Director
- Director, Neurosurgical Radiosurgery
- 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
- Professor, Neurological Surgery
- Director, Brain Metastases Program
- Co-director, William Rhodes and Louise Tilzer-Rhodes Center for Glioblastoma
- Vice Chairman, Neurological Surgery
- Director, Pediatric Neurological Surgery
Reviewed by: Theodore Schwartz, M.D.
Last reviewed/last updated: September 2023
Illustration by Thom Graves, CMI