Skull base tumors form under the brain at the bottom of the skull. The skull base is a highly complex structure in that every nerve in the body that carries signals to and from the brain crosses it. Tumors that develop in this area are near critical nerves and blood vessels of the brain, spinal cord, head and neck. These tumors can grow inside or outside the skull. Not all skull base tumors are malignant, but even benign tumors can cause symptoms that affect a patient’s well-being and should be treated accordingly.
Symptoms of skull base tumors
Symptoms vary widely from patient to patient depending on the size, location and type of tumor. Sometimes, symptoms do not become apparent until a tumor grows large enough to create pressure on vital brain structures. Patients without symptoms may also discover a skull base tumor after having an imaging scan for an unrelated health condition. In general, however, here are some of the most common symptoms:
- Blurry or double vision
- Hearing loss
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Altered sense of smell
Diagnosing skull base tumors
The diagnosis of skull base tumors can be challenging when patients have no symptoms or small changes in normal body function that could be attributed to a different problem (for example, headaches, fatigue, nausea/vomiting, blurry vision). On the other hand, it is less likely that a skull base tumor diagnosis will be overlooked when symptoms are more significant such as progressive vision loss, double vision, hearing loss, focal weakness, etc.
Imaging scans, such as CT and MRI, will confirm the suspected diagnosis with an accurate assessment of size and location. Some additional blood tests may be needed before deciding on the best treatment plan.
Types of skull base tumors
There is a wide range of skull base tumors, which are classified by the type of tumor and where it is located in the skull base. Some of the most common types include:
- Acoustic neuromas (vestibular schwannomas)
- Esthesioneuroblastoma (olfactory neuroblastoma)
- Epidermoid cysts
- Juvenile nasopharyngeal angiofibroma (JNA)
- Metastases from systemic or head and neck cancers
- Paranasal sinus cancer
- Pituitary tumors
- Rathke’s cleft cysts
Treating skull base tumors
Patients with skull base tumors require a multispecialty treatment team that will offer each patient a tailored and comprehensive treatment plan. The main treatment includes surgery (open conventional approaches and minimally invasive techniques), chemotherapy and radiation therapy. These treatments may be used alone or in combination depending on the type of tumor and the treatment goals.
Moffitt Cancer Center’s approach to treating skull base tumors
At Moffitt Cancer Center, the multispecialty team in our Neuro-Oncology Program includes neurosurgeons, neurologists, medical oncologists, neuropathologists and other specialists, all of whom have unparalleled experience. We take an individualized approach to cancer treatment, tailoring each patient’s treatment plan to his or her unique needs and genetic makeup. Patients who turn to Moffitt for treatment have access to a wide range of services, including highly specialized surgery and clinical trials, for enhanced outcomes and quality of life.
Medically Reviewed by Andre Beer Furlan, MD, PhD, skull base and endovascular neurosurgeon.
If you would like more information about skull base tumors or the treatments available at Moffitt Cancer Center, you can request an appointment by calling 1-888-663-3488 or submitting a new patient registration form online.