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Doctors first thought Haley Spitznagel was suffering from migraine headaches, but it turned out to be something much more serious.
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After two previous brain surgeries, this woman found UPMC's expert team—and long-awaited relief from an aggressive tumor growing at the base of her skull near the pituitary gland.
Faced with the loss of her vision, this librarian found new hope with the EEA surgeons at UPMC, who gave her back the gift of sight.
Craniopharyngiomas are benign (non-cancerous) tumors that grow at the base of the brain near the pituitary gland.
These tumors are most common in children between ages 5 and 10. In fact, almost half of all craniopharyngiomas develop in people younger than age of 20.
There are two key types of craniopharyngiomas:
At UPMC, the preferred surgical treatment for craniopharyngiomas of the skull base is the Endoscopic Endonasal Approach (EEA). This innovative, minimally invasive technique uses the nose and nasal cavities as natural corridors to access hard-to-reach or previously inoperable tumors. Benefits of EEA include:
EEA has proven safe and effective in children. More than 100 children have been treated by UPMC skull base surgeons using EEA — more than at any other neurosurgery center in the world.
To make the diagnosis of craniopharyngioma, your doctor may:
Craniopharyngioma symptoms include:
Other conditions may result from damage to the pituitary gland done by the craniopharyngioma, including:
The doctor may also recommend:
Depending on your other symptoms, such as hormone and visual problems, your doctor may refer you to an endocrinologist or an ophthalmologist to further diagnose your craniopharyngioma.
Surgery is the primary treatment for craniopharyngiomas.
Craniopharyngiomas of the skull base may be approached directly using the Endoscopic Endonasal Approach (EEA). This state-of-the-art, minimally invasive approach allows surgeons to access the tumor through the natural corridor of the nose, without making an open incision. Surgeons then remove the craniopharyngioma through the nose and nasal cavities.
EEA offers the benefits of no incisions to heal, no disfigurement, and a faster recovery time. If you need complementary treatments, such as radiation, those therapies can begin soon after EEA surgery.
Although the goal of the surgery is total tumor removal with pituitary function preservation, in some cases the craniopharyngioma's proximity to critical brain structures (the hypothalamus, optic chiasm, and blood vessels) makes complete removal impossible.
The Expanded Endonasal Approach gives surgeons the best view of the undersurface of the optic nerves, chiasm, and pituitary stalk, assisting them in deciding whether to leave residual tumor attached to these important structures.
In cases where the tumor has clearly invaded the pituitary gland, surgeons may also remove the pituitary gland.
Gamma Knife radiosurgery is a painless treatment procedure that uses hundreds of highly focused radiation beams to target tumors and lesions within the brain, with no surgical incision.
Surgeons may use Gamma Knife radiosurgery:
Doctors at UPMC — the nation's leading provider of Gamma Knife procedures — have used this technology to effectively treat 12,000 patients with tumors, vascular malformations, pain, and other functional problems.
In instances where it's not safe to remove a craniopharyngioma tumor completely, radiation may follow surgery as the next preferred treatment.
Radiation therapy for residual craniopharyngioma tumors:
Intracavitary P-32 is used for primarily cystic tumors.
Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
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