Skull Base Tumor

General Overview:
Skull base tumors can either be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). While there are several types of tumors, skull base tumors are grouped together because of the way they are diagnosed and because the treatment techniques are very similar, regardless of the type of tumor. What these tumors have in common is that they all affect the base of the skull beneath the brain. The skull base extends from the area above the eyes to the area where the neck joins the skull.

One type of skull base tumor is called an acoustic neuroma. This is a benign growth that starts in the sheath of the vestibular nerves (the nerves that carry balance signals from the inner ear to the brain) and runs right next to the acoustic nerve (which carries hearing signals) and the facial nerve (which carries the signals that move the face muscles).

There is another category of tumors called meningiomas. They are benign, slowly growing tumors that arise from membranes that line the inner surface of the skull. They can grow anywhere along the base of the skull, and they can even grow through the base of the skull and into the tissues below the skull, such as around the eyes, or down into the cheek.

The Cause:
There are many different reasons why a person develops one of these tumors, but most often the exact cause cannot be determined.

Making the Diagnosis:
Most skull base tumors are not selfdiagnosed. Instead, they produce symptoms related to the location in the head. This could range from headaches to problems with the sinuses, eyes, pituitary gland, chewing, or swallowing. The intensity of these problems then typically causes a person to seek medical attention to evaluate the problem.

Benign tumors are generally treated surgically, although small ones may be treated with stereotactic radiosurgery (radiation delivered with surgical precision). Malignant tumors require multi-modality treatment, including a skull base surgery team (consisting of a neurosurgeon, an ENT surgeon, and sometimes a plastic surgeon or an ophthalmologist), as well as radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

The Outlook:
The outlook for a patient with a skull base tumor depends on the type of tumor. For some of the benign tumors, the outlook can be very good. For malignant tumors, the outlook can be very difficult; depending on the location, these cancers can produce blindness, stroke or paralysis.


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