At Torrance Memorial Medical Center, our neurologists and neurosurgeons
offer expert diagnosis and care for skull base tumors and their complications.
Our affiliation with the neurology team at Cedars-Sinai — which
is ranked among the best hospitals in the nation for neurology care by
U.S. News & World Report — means that our patients have access
to the most advanced treatment options.
What is a skull base tumor?
A skull base tumor is any tumor that grows on the bone structure that supports
your brain. Your spinal cord, nerves, and the major arteries that supply
blood to your brain all pass through openings in your skull base.
Types of Skull Base Tumors
A skull base tumor can be benign (noncancerous), which means it does not
spread to other areas of your body, or malignant (cancerous), which means
it can spread to other parts of your body (metastasize). Even though benign
tumors do not spread to other parts of your body, they can still cause
symptoms as they grow and put pressure on the surrounding tissues.
Types of skull base tumors include:
Anterior compartment skull base tumors. These form in the part of your skull base that contains the eye sockets
Central compartment skull base tumors. These form in the part of your skull base that contains the pituitary
gland and temporal lobes. Tumors in this area may also be known as sellar tumors.
Posterior compartment skull base tumors. These form in the part of your skull base that contains the openings for
your spinal cord, blood vessels, and nerves.
Symptoms of a skull base tumor may appear gradually and progress as the
tumor grows in size. These symptoms will vary depending on the size and
location of the tumor and may include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Changes in your sense of smell, hearing, or vision
- Difficulty swallowing
- Difficulty talking
- Difficulty balancing
- Nausea or vomiting
- Memory loss
- Sinus congestion
- Neck pain
- Changes in your endocrine system or hormonal changes
Causes and Risk Factors
Skull base tumors are relatively rare, and it is usually difficult to determine
their direct cause. However, known risk factors for a skull base tumor include:
- Radiation therapy directed at your head
- A family history of tumors, especially skull base tumors
- Neurofibromatosis type 2, a genetic disorder
- Exposure to chemicals such as vinyl chloride, herbicides, and arsenic
When diagnosing a skull base tumor, your doctor will consider your signs
and symptoms, previous medical test results, and your general medical
condition. Methods of diagnosing a skull base tumor include:
Functional tests. Your doctor will look for abnormalities in your normal functions. Tests
may involve an assessment of your hearing, vision, swallowing, and other
Imaging tests. These may include a CT (computed tomography) scan or MRI (magnetic resonance
imaging) scan. These scans create highly detailed pictures of your body
tissues and structures to help your doctor find abnormalities.
Biopsy. During a biopsy, your doctor will collect tissue samples to determine if
the tumor is cancerous or benign. Some biopsies are done as part of the
surgery to remove a tumor, but a skull base tumor biopsy can also be performed
during a fine-needle aspiration or using an endoscope inserted through
your nose or mouth.
When presenting treatment options for a skull base tumor, your doctor will
consider your type of tumor, your signs and symptoms, and your general
Treatments for a skull base tumor include:
Surgery. Surgery to remove the tumor may be performed through traditional open
surgery, minimally invasive endoscopic surgery, or image-guided surgery.
Some skull base tumors, depending on their size and location, may be more
appropriate for surgical treatment than others.
Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy uses x-rays or proton beams to shrink or eliminate your tumor.
Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells and may be delivered orally