A craniopharyngioma is a rare benign (non-cancerous) tumor that usually forms in the center of the brain just above the pituitary gland (a pea-sized organ at the bottom of the brain that controls other glands). Craniopharyngiomas can form from different types of brain or spinal cord cells.
These tumors are usually part solid and part fluid-filled. They may grow and press against parts of the brain, optic nerves and fluid-filled spaces around the brain, including the hypothalamus and pituitary gland.
The symptoms of craniopharyngioma vary widely according to size and location:
- Blindness or partial vision loss — may occur if the optic nerves are affected
- Delayed puberty
- Headache — may occur if the tumor compresses the brain or blocks the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid from the ventricles
- Extreme thirst and urination (diabetes insipidus)
- Loss of appetite
- Low blood pressure
- Nausea and vomiting
- Problems processing (metabolizing) minerals (electrolytes)
- Problems with thinking and learning
- Slowed growth—may occur if the hypothalamus or pituitary gland is affected
- Weight gain
Craniopharyngioma can occur at any age, but it occurs most often in children and older adults. The cause is generally unknown, but family history of brain tumors or exposure to radiation may be a factor in development.