If you have a skull base tumor, or are helping a loved one learn about skull base tumor treatment, you’ve come to the right place. We want to help you understand your treatment options so you get the best outcome possible.
Memorial Sloan Kettering is a leading center for skull base tumor treatment. Our highly trained skull base surgeons place a strong emphasis on completely removing the tumor while preserving quality of life. Achieving this delicate balance is our goal.
We are also one of a limited number of locations nationwide with access to proton therapy. Proton therapy is a highly advanced form of radiation that can keep side effects to a minimum.
The information here is meant to guide you through the basics about skull base tumors. You can also navigate to other sections of our website to learn more about specific types of skull base tumors, such as acoustic neuroma, meningioma, and pituitary tumors. You may also wish to learn more about our Multidisciplinary Pituitary and Skull Base Tumor Center.
Most people aren’t familiar with the skull base and where it is located until they have been diagnosed with a tumor there. Simply put, the skull base refers to the base or floor of the cranium, the part of the skull on which the brain rests. It consists of five bones that are fused together, separating the brain from the sinuses, ears, eyes, and other parts of the head.
The bones that make up the skull base include:
- the ethmoid bone, which divides the nasal cavity from the brain
- the sphenoid bone, which helps form the skull base, sides of the skull, and the sides of the eye sockets
- the occipital bone, which forms the back and base of the skull
- a pair of frontal bones, which make up the forehead and the upper part of the eye sockets
- a pair of temporal bones, which form the lateral walls of the skull
The skull base is a complex part of the body. There are a number of openings in the skull base to allow important blood vessels and nerves to pass through. The occipital bone has an opening that allows the spinal cord to pass through.
Skull base tumors are growths that can form along the base of the skull or directly below the skull base in areas such as the sinuses. Many are benign (noncancerous) and grow slowly over time. In rare cases, a skull base tumor can be cancerous, which means that it is able to spread to other parts of the body.
A skull base tumor refers to the location of the tumor. But skull base tumors are not all the same. There are different types of tumors. And each type of skull base tumor grows slightly differently, which is an important consideration during treatment. Types of skull base tumors include:
- acoustic neuromas
- paranasal sinus cancers
- pituitary adenomas
- Rathke’s cleft cysts
Most skull base tumors do not cause symptoms. When symptoms do arise, they can vary greatly. And it is usually because the tumor is
- putting pressure on the brain
- affecting hormone production in the pituitary gland
- compressing the optic nerves
Skull base tumors can be challenging to diagnose.
That’s in part because many of these conditions never cause symptoms. In some people, headaches, nausea, and vision problems are attributed to other diseases. The possibility of a skull base tumor is overlooked.
In fact, most people discover they have a skull base tumor after having an MRI scan for an unrelated health condition.
An accurate diagnosis usually involves an MRI scan of the brain. This will help your doctor determine the exact size and location of the tumor. Blood tests to measure hormone levels may also be needed, especially if your doctor thinks you may have a pituitary tumor. The pituitary gland plays an important role in hormone production. A tumor there can lead to hormone imbalances.
The main treatment for most skull base tumor patients is a minimally invasive operation called transsphenoidal surgery. The recovery for this procedure is quick and it leaves no scarring.
Radiation therapy may also be needed. Proton therapy is one type of radiation that has been very effective for people with skull base tumors. Unlike traditional radiation, protons do not penetrate beyond the tumor. Proton therapy lowers the risk of treatment-related side effects caused that can result when healthy tissue is exposed to radiation.
Our experts are among the most experienced in the nation at treating skull base tumors, caring for more than 200 people with skull base tumors each year. Patients receive personalized care from our multidisciplinary group of skull base tumor experts, which includes a neurosurgeon, neuro-endocrinologist, neuro-ophthalmologist, head and neck surgeon, radiation oncologist, neuro-oncologist, and neuro-radiologist.
These experts meet every week to discuss challenging cases as well as referrals from colleagues and patients at MSK and at other hospitals.
Often, our patients are able to see multiple specialists — a neuro-endocrinologist, neurosurgeon, and head and neck surgeon — all at the same time, during our clinic hours at Memorial Sloan Kettering’s 64th Street Outpatient Center. This approach spares our patients the inconvenience of having to make multiple appointments with the different specialists involved in their care.
We closely monitor people who are at risk for side effects. This vigilance allows us to give our patients the best quality of life possible. We are also one of the few treatment centers to offer clinical trials for skull base tumors. Participating in a clinical trial may give you access to new treatments that are not widely available elsewhere.
- We offer our surgical patients a complete approach to skull base surgery, including minimally invasive options that can help you recover faster and leave no scarring.
- Our surgeons use intraoperative MRI during every skull base tumor surgery they perform. This technology provides real-time scans that enable us to operate more safely and with greater accuracy.
- Our patients have access to new drug treatments through our program of skull base tumor clinical trials.
- We offer the safest, most effective approaches to radiation. We are one of a handful of treatment centers nation-wide to offer proton therapy.
- We give our patients the most convenient and seamless experience possible by offering appointments with multiple specialists all at the same time.
- We provide personalized long-term follow-up care for skull base tumors.