Skull Base Tumors
The term "skull base tumor" doesn't actually refer to the type of tumor but rather refers to the location of the tumor. The skull base is the area behind the eyes and nose that slopes down to the back of the head. This area forms the "floor" or base of the skull. The spinal cord, along with multiple nerves and major blood vessels of the brain, head and neck pass through the opening in the skull base.
The type of tumor can be one of several. Some of these tumors can be malignant (cancerous), however most are benign (non-cancerous). However even benign tumors can cause problems as they are invasive and are in a confined space. Although the benign tumors grow slowly they can be a major threat. As a skull base tumor grows, it pushes and stretches nerve tissue. When a tumor grows to a certain point, it may begin to destroy brain tissue, build pressure in the brain or even compress the brain or shift it and press it against the skull. This can cause the brain to swell and cause damage to the brain. This is a life threatening condition as it may cause permanent brain damage or death.
There are different types of skull base tumors, several of which were covered in other sections such as acoustic neuroma and pituitary tumors. Other tumors include:
Benign (non-cancerous) skull base tumors include but not limited to:
- Glomus tumors
Malignant (cancerous) skull base tumors include but not limited to:
- Mucosal melanoma
Symptoms of a skull base tumor will vary depending on how big the tumor is and how fast its growth is. Symptoms vary from person to person and can mimic symptoms of other conditions. The most common conditions of skull base tumors include:
- Pain, numbness or weakness in the face
- Twitching or paralysis in face
- Sinus problems / stopped up nose
- Vision loss or double vision
- Hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Difficulties in speech
- Difficulty swallowing
- Change in personality
- Dizziness or difficulty with balance & coordination
- Shortness of breath
Because these symptoms are similar to the symptoms of so many other conditions, patients should not assume that they have a skull base tumor if they have one or several of these symptoms. Diagnosis should be done by a professional with expertise in the field. Our experts at SCCNS have vast experience in dealing with skull based tumors and will make a diagnosis based on imaging tests such as an MRI / fMRI or a CT scan of the brain. Various other diagnostic tests may also be used depending on what initial tests show.
The treatment of skull base brain tumors depends on several key factors such as tumor type, tumor location, the overall health of the patient as well as the benefit versus the risks of the treatment. Each patient is evaluated on a case by case basis to customize the best treatment for each individual.
Small skull base tumors may not require surgery if they are not causing symptoms and there is no threat. These types of tumors may be monitored closely and rechecked over a period of time. Most invasive skull base tumors require surgery. When surgery is required, it should be done by a specialist in the field with a great deal of experience. Our renowned fellowship trained skull base tumor surgeons at SCCNS work in multi-specialty teams to provide the highest level of experience and advanced techniques for the most minimally invasive treatment available. With our state-of-the-art minimally invasive endoscopic surgery, our experts use an endoscope to remove the tumor leaving no visible incisions if the surgery is done through the sinuses or very small ones in the skull.
With the help of today's technology, our surgeons can use either image-guided surgery with CT scans that help guide the surgeon to the precise location of the tumor or real-time MRI that shows live images of the tumor and the surrounding areas of the brain which allows the chance for complete removal of the tumor.
Along with our minimally invasive surgery techniques, we also offer Gamma Knife Radiosurgery. Gamma Knife isn't actually a knife buy rather a radiation surgery technique that requires no incision. It provides accurate tumor targeting with a single dose of radiation. Patients that have this treatment can return to normal activity within a few days after treatment. Our success with this treatment has been tremendous and we are recognized as the preferred provider of this treatment at the Southern California Regional Gamma Center at San Antonio Community Hospital. SCCNS is one of the very few teams to be able to offer this treatment.