Skull Base Tumors (Craniopharyngioma)

What is craniopharyngioma?

Craniopharyngioma is a benign (non-cancerous) tumor that develops at the base of the skull, near the pituitary gland. Having a craniopharyngioma doesn't cause cancer, but if it gets big enough, it can press against different nerves and parts of the brain and cause health problems.

Symptoms of craniopharyngioma

Craniopharyngioma is most common in children, but it can also happen in adults. Kids and adults may notice the same symptoms, including:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Vision changes
  • Problems with balance

Once the tumor reaches a certain size, it can push on nearby structures in the brain and cause symptoms like:

  • Loss of vision, especially peripheral vision
  • Increased appetite, overeating or weight gain
  • Increased thirst and frequent urination, sometimes called diabetes insipidus
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Adrenal failure

Kids who have craniopharyngioma may have stunted growth and may be late starting puberty. Adults with craniopharyngioma may have a decreased sex drive, and men may become impotent. Women may stop getting a monthly period.

Because the pituitary gland plays a big role in controlling your hormones, many of the symptoms of craniopharyngioma can look like other hormonal problems. Talk to your doctor if you're having symptoms.

Diagnosis and testing for craniopharyngioma

Your doctor will talk with you about your symptoms and do a physical exam to check your balance, reflexes, vision and hearing. Your doctor may then recommend an imaging test like a CT scan or MRI. You might also need to see an eye doctor or an endocrinologist (gland specialist).


Most of the time, surgery is the best treatment for craniopharyngioma, and many craniopharyngiomas can be removed using minimally invasive surgical procedures.

In some cases, the tumor may be too close to the brain for a surgical removal. If your tumor can't be surgically removed, our doctors can treat it with radiation or radiosurgery, which is a highly targeted beam of radiation that pinpoints the tumor without touching surrounding tissues. Talk to your doctor about which treatment is best for you.

Radiation Therapy

Specialists at Main Line Health offer a variety of radiation therapies to help treat cancerous tumors while preserving healthy tissue.

Cranial Surgery



The neurology team at Main Line Health treats and manages conditions such as migraines, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and more.


Discover how Main Line Health neurosurgeons provide expert care, from routine to complex spinal and nervous system conditions for patients.