Behind the eyes and nose in the area where the brain rests and where the eye sockets, ears, and nasal cavities meet the brain is the skull base. A host of cranial conditions and diseases can affect this portion of the head, and it’s a common site of tumors, neuromas, infections and meningiomas. And unfortunately, due to its hard-to-access location and the fact that is very near the nerves and blood vessels of the brain and spinal cord, treating these conditions in the skull base can be difficult.
Simply put, tumors are abnormal growths due to unnecessary cell multiplication that serves no proper function in the human body. Typically, cell multiplication is controlled by suppressor genes, which continually act to protect cells from cancer-causing genes known as oncogenes. However, when suppressor genes fail because of changes in their protein coding, tumor can develop as cell division becomes unregulated.
Whereas our body’s built-in defenses find and destroy these abnormal cells, naturally occurring chemicals sometimes hamper the ability of our immune system to see these cells, as which point they become strong enough and exist in large enough numbers to overpower any of body’s defenses.
Tumors found in the skull base are classified into one of two groups: primary tumors begin in the central nervous system, spinal cord or brain, and secondary tumors originate elsewhere in the body and spread to the spinal cord or brain. Additionally, malignant tumors are those that are cancerous and continue to worsen as time goes by, whereas benign tumors are non-cancerous and tend to remain static.
When a skull base tumor exists, depending on its exact location, type and size a patient can expect to experience breathing problems, vision, smell and hearing changes and headaches. Nausea combined with vomiting is also common, as are coordination issues and memory loss. To diagnosis a skull base tumor, physicians will conduct physical and mental exams coupled with imaging technologies such as MRIs or CAT or CT scans and endoscopies (performed by inserting a small camera into the nasal passage). These can determine where the tumor is located, the extent to which it is affecting surrounding structures and tissue and what course treatment will provide the best possible outcome.
Small and benign skull base tumors that are not impacting the functions of the brain or spinal cord and are not causing any serious symptoms are typically not treated but rather observed to ensure they don’t grow or worsen. If surgery is necessary it will focus on removing all or as much of the tumor as possible, preferably through a minimally invasive procedure such as endonasal endoscopic surgery or a craniotomy or endoscopic assisted microsurgery. If the tumor is malignant, post-surgery radiation therapy will likely also be utilized.