The base of the skull is the area behind the eyes and nose that reaches to the back of the head. Tumors forming in this region may be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Their proximity to the spinal cord, nerves and blood vessels in a confined space makes treatment difficult.
A number of different types of tumors can form in the skull base. The location can influence not only the type of tumor and its growth rate, but also the corresponding treatment.
Most skull base tumors form in one of three areas. The anterior compartment of the skull base, which houses the eye sockets and sinuses, is prone to meningioma, olfactory neuroblastoma and paranasal sinus cancer. The central compartment, home to the pituitary gland, sees pituitary adenomas, craniopharyngioma and Rathke’s cleft cyst. The posterior compartment sees acoustic neuromas, chondrosarcoma, chordoma and meningioma.
The prognosis for each of these tumors differs. Some are benign and cause few problems, while others are malignant.
While exact symptoms vary based on the tumor type, in general patients may experience any of the following signs: headaches, breathing difficulty, blurry vision, trouble swallowing, loss of smell, hearing loss, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and memory loss.
In order to diagnose tumors of the skull base, the physician will rely on a physical exam, a neurological exam and imaging studies. These might include CT scan, MRI, bone scan and positron emission tomography (PET) scan.
As with most cancers, treatment for skull base tumors is dependent upon a number of factors. Location of the tumor, its size and type, whether it is benign or malignant and the patient’s age and overall health are all taken into consideration. Options may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or a combination of treatments. Due to the sensitive location, minimally invasive surgical procedures are preferred when possible.