Craniopharyngioma in Children
What is craniopharyngioma in children?
Craniopharyngioma is a brain tumor that’s not cancer (benign). A brain tumor is an
abnormal growth of tissue under the brain. The brain is part of the central nervous
system (CNS). The CNS also includes the spinal cord. The main parts of the brain are:
Forebrain. This part has the cerebrum. The cerebrum has 2 sides, the right and left
hemispheres. It controls thoughts, emotions, speech, and movement. It also helps with
understanding information from the senses. This includes seeing, hearing, smelling,
touching, and feeling pain.
Midbrain. This part organizes muscle movement and helps to maintain posture, balance,
Hindbrain. This part includes the midbrain, the pons, and the medulla. It is the part
of the brain that connects to the spinal cord. It plays a part in controlling muscles
and sensations from the body. Part of the brainstem helps control breathing and the
heartbeat. Many of the cranial nerves start in the brain stem. The cranial nerves
carry messages from different parts of the body to the brain.
Brain tumors start in the cells of the brain. They can be either of the following:
Noncancer (benign). This kind of tumor doesn’t contain cancer cells. In most cases, once a benign tumor
is fully removed, it often doesn’t grow back. Most benign brain tumors don’t grow
into nearby tissue. These tumors can cause symptoms by pressing on the brain.
Cancer (malignant). This kind of tumor does contain cancer cells. Malignant brain tumors usually grow
fast and grow into nearby tissue. Malignant brain tumors don’t usually spread to other
areas of the body. They may grow back after treatment.
Brain tumors can occur at any age. Brain tumors that occur in infants and children
are very different from adult brain tumors.
A craniopharyngioma is a benign tumor that is found near the pituitary gland. The
pituitary gland is under the brain but directly connected to it. It controls the production
of many hormones in the body.
A craniopharyngioma is usually a mixture of both solid tissue and fluid-filled cysts.
The tumor is not cancer. It does not spread to other parts of the body. But as it
grows, it may press on parts of the brain and nearby tissue. This affects hormones,
vision, and other normal functions. For this reason, it needs to be treated. This
kind of tumor is most often found in boys and girls 5 to 14 years old.
What causes a craniopharyngioma in a child?
Most brain tumors are caused by abnormal genes or chromosomes. Researchers don’t know
what causes them to be abnormal. Some chemicals may play a part in gene changes. Research
What are the symptoms of a craniopharyngioma in a child?
Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each child. The tumor can cause symptoms if
it begins to grow into or press on an area of the brain. The most common symptoms
Headache that may go away after vomiting
Loss of balance
Unusual changes in energy level
Slow growth or delayed puberty
Increase in thirst
Increase in head size (in a baby)
Mood or behavior changes
The symptoms of a craniopharyngioma can be like other health conditions. Have your child
see a healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is a craniopharyngioma diagnosed in a child?
The healthcare provider will ask about your child's health history and symptoms. The
provider will examine your child. This will include a neurological exam. The exam
tests reflexes, muscle strength, eye and mouth movement, and coordination. Your child
may also have tests such as:
Vision test. This is to check for changes in or problems with vision.
CT scan. A CT scan uses a series of X-rays and a computer to make detailed pictures of the
MRI. This test uses large magnets, radio waves, and a computer to make detailed pictures
of the body. Contrast dye may be injected into your child's vein. It helps healthcare
providers see tumor cells more clearly.
Blood tests. Blood tests may be done to check levels of hormones, such as thyroid-stimulating
hormone (TSH), prolactin (PRL), and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). These are
secreted by the pituitary gland.
How is a craniopharyngioma treated in a child?
Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also
depend on how severe the condition is.
A craniopharyngioma is usually removed with surgery. In some cases, healthcare providers
are not sure a tumor is a craniopharyngioma until surgery. The surgeon will see if
the tumor can be removed fully. They may not be able to find this out before surgery.
In some cases, the surgeon isn’t able to remove all the tumor with surgery. This is
because of the risk of damaging other tissues in the head. These include the optic
nerve, hypothalamus, and carotid artery. A surgeon will remove as much of the tumor
as possible. Your child may then need radiation therapy to shrink the rest of the
tumor. This is usually done with external beam therapy. This radiation is pointed
at the body from a machine. In some cases, your child may need experimental chemotherapy
if the tumor grows back after radiation.
Talk with your child’s healthcare providers about the risks, benefits, and possible
side effects of all treatments.
What are possible complications of a craniopharyngioma in a child?
The tumor can be fully removed with surgery in 9 out of 10 children. In some cases,
there is a chance that the tumor will grow back, especially if all of it is not removed.
Most cases of the tumor growing back happen within 2 years of surgery.
A child may have other health effects after treatment ends. Some common side effects
of a craniopharyngioma include vision loss, obesity, behavioral problems, memory loss,
and the need for lifelong hormone replacement. One common side effect is loss of posterior
pituitary gland function. This causes uncontrolled urination. It can be partly treated
with hormonal therapy.
When should I call my child’s healthcare provider?
Call the healthcare provider if your child has:
Key points about a craniopharyngioma in children
A craniopharyngioma is a noncancer (benign) tumor that is found near the pituitary
gland. The pituitary gland is connected to the brain. It controls the production of
many hormones in the body.
As the tumor grows, it may press on parts of the brain and nearby tissue. This affects
hormones, vision, and other normal functions.
The most common symptoms are headaches that may go away after vomiting, vision changes,
loss of balance, and trouble walking.
Your child may have blood tests and imaging tests to diagnose the tumor. In some cases,
the type of tumor isn’t known until surgery.
Treatment may include surgery and radiation. There may be some complications after
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis and any new medicines, treatments,
or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child.
Also know what the side effects are.
Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose
for that visit.
Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important
if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.