Craniopharyngioma is a rare type of noncancerous (benign) brain tumor.

Craniopharyngioma begins near the brain's pituitary gland, which secretes hormones that control many body functions. As a craniopharyngioma slowly grows, it can affect the function of the pituitary gland and other nearby structures in the brain.

Craniopharyngioma can occur at any age, but it occurs most often in young children and older adults.

  • Teamwork. At Mayo Clinic, neurologists and ear, nose and throat (otorhinolaryngology) experts form a team with neurosurgeons, radiologists and radiation oncologists to care for people with craniopharyngioma. Other professionals are included as needed.
  • Experience. Craniopharyngioma is a rare type of brain tumor. Mayo Clinic doctors have experience diagnosing and treating craniopharyngioma. Each year, they treat about 200 people with craniopharyngioma.
  • A full range of treatment options to consider. Mayo Clinic doctors will work with you to review all of your treatment options and choose the treatment that best suits your needs and goals. The range of treatments offered to people with craniopharyngioma includes several types of surgery and radiation therapy.
  • Newest technology. Mayo Clinic offers advanced technology for treating craniopharyngiomas, including minimally invasive surgery, image-guided surgery and stereotactic radiosurgery.
  • Research. Mayo Clinic doctors and scientists are active in brain tumor research. You have access to the latest diagnosis and treatment advances that result from this research.

Diagnosis

Tests and procedures used to diagnose craniopharyngioma include:

  • Physical exam. Diagnosing a craniopharyngioma usually starts with a medical history review and a neurologic exam by your doctor. During this procedure, your vision, hearing, balance, coordination and reflexes are tested.
  • Blood tests. Blood tests may reveal changes in hormone levels that indicate a tumor is affecting your pituitary gland.
  • Imaging tests. Tests to create images of your brain may include X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a computerized tomography (CT) scan or a positron emission tomography (PET) scan.

Treatment

At Mayo Clinic, a team of experts works with you to determine which craniopharyngioma treatment is best for you. Treatment for craniopharyngioma usually involves surgery.

Surgery

Surgery to remove all or most of the tumor is most often recommended for people with craniopharyngioma. What type of operation is performed will depend on the location and size of your tumor.

To access the tumor, the surgeon may use:

  • Open surgery. During a craniotomy procedure, doctors open the skull to gain access to the tumor.
  • Minimally invasive surgery. During a transsphenoidal procedure, special surgical tools are inserted through your nose or through a small incision above your upper lip. The tools pass through a bone (sphenoid bone) and into your brain.

When possible, surgeons remove the entire tumor. But because there are often many delicate and important structures nearby, doctors sometimes can't remove the entire tumor. In those situations, other treatments may be used after surgery.

Radiosurgery

When a tumor can't be removed completely with surgery, your doctor may recommend stereotactic radiosurgery. Technically a type of radiation and not an operation, stereotactic radiosurgery focuses multiple beams of radiation on precise points to kill the tumor cells.

Radiation therapy

Other forms of radiation therapy may be used to treat craniopharyngioma, depending on the situation. Radiation uses powerful energy beams, such as X-rays, to kill tumor cells.

Mayo Clinic radiation oncologists use the latest radiation technology, including intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) and intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT). These advanced procedures help treat the cancer effectively while limiting radiation to normal tissues, such as the eyes, optic nerves, brain, brainstem and spinal cord.

Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., ranks #1 for ear, nose and throat in the U.S. News & World Report Best Hospitals rankings. Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., is ranked among the Best Hospitals, and Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., is ranked high performing for ear, nose and throat by U.S. News & World Report.

At Mayo Clinic, we assemble a team of specialists who take the time to listen and thoroughly understand your health issues and concerns. We tailor the care you receive to your personal health care needs. You can trust our specialists to collaborate and offer you the best possible outcomes, safety and service.

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Why Choose Mayo Clinic

What Sets Mayo Clinic Apart

Mayo Clinic works with hundreds of insurance companies and is an in-network provider for millions of people. In most cases, Mayo Clinic doesn't require a physician referral. Some insurers require referrals or may have additional requirements for certain medical care. All appointments are prioritized on the basis of medical need.

At Mayo Clinic in Arizona, specialists in neurosurgery, hematology and oncology, and radiation oncology work together with ear, nose and throat (otorhinolaryngology) experts to care for people with craniopharyngioma. Other experts are included as needed.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 800-446-2279 (toll-free) 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

At Mayo Clinic in Florida, specialists in endocrinology, neurosurgery, hematology and oncology, and radiation oncology work together with ear, nose and throat (otolaryngology) experts to care for people with craniopharyngioma. Other experts are included as needed.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 904-953-0853 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

At Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, specialists in neurosurgery, oncology, pediatric hematology and oncology, radiation oncology, and endocrinology work together with ear, nose and throat (otorhinolaryngology) experts to care for people with craniopharyngioma. Other experts are included as needed.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 507-538-3270 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Central time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

See information on patient services at the three Mayo Clinic locations, including transportation options and lodging.

Mayo Clinic doctors and scientists are studying new ways to diagnose and treat brain tumors, such as craniopharyngioma. Learn more about neuro-oncology research and head and neck surgery research.

Publications

See a list of publications by Mayo Clinic authors on craniopharyngioma on PubMed, a service of the National Library of Medicine.

Jul. 19, 2013