Skull base tumors are brain tumors that grow in the skull base – the bony ridge that separates the brain from the upper neck, eye sockets, nasal cavities and ear canals.

The location of skull base tumors can make them challenging to treat, since they are close to critical nerves and blood vessels. Skull base tumors can cause serious symptoms as they grow, especially if they begin to put pressure on the brain.

Types of Skull Base Tumors

Skull base tumors can be malignant (cancerous) or benign (noncancerous). A variety of different tumors can grow in the skull base, including pituitary tumors and acoustic neuromas.

Pituitary tumors are abnormal growths in the tissue of the pituitary gland. Almost all are benign, and they do not spread to other parts of the body.

Acoustic neuroma is the most common type of skull base tumor; however, they are benign tumors and often slow growing. Acoustic neuromas are most commonly located at the base of the brain, where the auditory nerve leaves the skull cavity and enters the bony structure of the inner ear.

Most skull base tumors grow inside the skull, but some form outside of the skull. A skull base tumor may originate in the skull base, or it can spread there from cancer that originated elsewhere in the body (metastatic).

Skull Base Tumor Symptoms

Since many different types of tumors can grow in the skull base, the symptoms vary. However, most smaller skull base tumors do not cause any symptoms. These tumors are more likely to cause symptoms and be diagnosed as they grow larger, as they begin to put pressure on the brain, sinuses, blood vessels, nerves or nearby bodily structures.

For example, an acoustic neuroma can cause hearing loss, dizziness, ringing in the ears and balance problems. However, a pituitary tumor may cause headaches, pressure, vision loss or hormone changes.

Skull Base Tumor Causes

There is no known cause of skull base tumors. However, your risk may be increased by certain factors, such as having received radiation therapy to the head, being exposed to specific toxic chemicals and having specific genetic conditions. For example, acoustic neuroma is often linked with the genetic disorder neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2).

Skull Base Tumor Diagnosis

If your doctor suspects you have a skull base tumor, it is important to get an accurate diagnosis as quickly as possible. At Wake Forest Baptist Health, our skull base tumor specialists are committed to helping patients through this stressful time with compassion and care.

To detect and evaluate skull base tumors, we use a variety of techniques, including:

  • Brainstem auditory evoked response, which evaluates brainstem function
  • Electronystagmography, which tests equilibrium and balance
  • Hearing tests
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain

Depending on the results of these tests, our specialists may recommend a minimally-invasive brain biopsy. Many patients benefit from having a friend or family member with them during the diagnosis appointment.

Skull Base Tumor Treatment

Treatment for a skull base tumor may include any combination of observation, surgery and radiation therapy. Your custom treatment plan will depend on several factors, such as the location and extent of the tumor, your overall health and your treatment preferences.

At Wake Forest Baptist, we treat skull base tumors using a collaborative approach. Our multidisciplinary team includes specialists from neurosurgery, otolaryngology and radiation oncology. During and after treatment, you may also work with specialists from neuro-ophthalmology, neuro-endocrinology, neuro-radiology, neuro-pathology, and speech and occupational therapy in order to maximize your quality of life.

Our specialists are your team, and your input is essential to every decision we make. Once we have a diagnosis, our team works together with each other, and with you and your family, to develop the most advanced and effective treatment plan.