What is a craniopharyngioma?

A craniopharyngioma is a benign tumor that develops near the pituitary gland and optic nerves and grows near the base of the brain. It is classified as a benign tumor, but its impact can be significant due to its location near important structures. Craniopharyngiomas may be accompanied by a cyst.. Craniopharyngioma accounts for between five percent and 10 percent of pediatric brain tumors and most often occur in children between five and 14 years of age. The cause of craniopharygioma is unknown.

What are the symptoms of a craniopharyngioma?

Symptoms of craniopharyngioma vary depending on its exact location in the brain. Symptoms can include headache, vomiting, papilledema (swollen eye nerve seen on ophthalmological exam), difficulty with balance and lethargy. When craniopharyngioma causes pressure on the optic nerve, patients may experience loss of vision described as “blind spots”, typically with loss of peripheral vision (also known as tunnel vision). Pressure on the pituitary gland can cause failure to produce pituitary hormones which may cause any of the following symptoms: poor growth, decreased energy, weight gain, cold intolerance, lack of energy, pubertal delay or precocious puberty, and increased thirst and urination. Craniopharyngiomas that cause pressure on the hypothalamus result in failure to thrive or obesity.  

How is a craniopharyngioma diagnosed?

A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan and a computerized axial tomography (CAT or CT) scan are both helpful in the diagnosis of craniopharyngioma. The MRI precisely defines the location of the tumor. The CT scan helps differentiate it from other tumor types because CT scans easily show tumor calcification, which is a unique feature seen in craniopharyngioma. 

How is a craniopharyngioma treated?

Craniopharyngioma can be treated with surgical removal or radiation therapy. Because children are more susceptible to the long-term toxicities of radiation, complete surgical removal of the tumor is the most common approach. If complete removal of the tumor is not possible without causing unacceptable side effects, radiation therapy can effectively treat craniopharyngioma. In rare cases where the tumor has a large predominant cyst, aspiration of the fluid in the cyst or injection of chemotherapy or a radioactive material into the cyst can be useful in managing the tumor. 

About treatment for Craniopharyngioma at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota

Our cancer and blood disorders program consistently achieves excellent results ranking it in the top 10 programs in the United States. Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota treats the majority of children with cancer and blood disorders in Minnesota and provides patients access to a variety of clinical trials using ground-breaking new treatments. Through our renowned program, patients experience unparalleled family support, a nationally recognized pain management team, and compassionate, coordinated care.

Contact us

If you are a family member looking for a Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota neuro-oncologist, please call our clinic at (612) 813-5940.

If you are a health professional looking for consultation or referral information, please call Children's Physician Access at 1-866-755-2121 (toll-free) and ask for the on-call hematologist/oncologist.

Additional information on craniopharyngioma

For additional information, check out these web sites:

National Cancer Institute:

American Brain Tumor Association


Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation