Sometimes all of the tumor that can be seen is removed in surgery and no further treatment is needed. At other times, it is more difficult to remove the tumor because it is growing into or pressing on nearby organs. Serious problems may occur if the pituitary gland, hypothalamus, optic nerves, or carotid artery are affected during surgery.
If there is tumor remaining after the surgery, radiation therapy is usually given to kill any tumor cells that are left. Treatment given after the surgery, to lower the risk that the cancer will come back, is called adjuvant therapy.
After surgery, follow-up testing with MRI will be done for several years to check if the tumor has come back. Also, if part of the pituitary gland is removed in surgery, several types of pituitary hormone replacement pills will be given for life.
Surgery with cyst drainage
Surgery may be done to drain tumors that are mostly cyst. This lowers pressure in the brain and relieves symptoms. A catheter (thin tube) is inserted into the cyst and a small container is placed under the skin. The fluid drains into the container and is later removed. Sometimes, after the cyst is drained, a drug that causes the inside wall of the cyst to scar is put through the catheter into the cyst. This is done to stop the cyst from making fluid or to increase the amount of the time it takes for the fluid to build up again. Surgery to remove the tumor may be done after the cyst is drained.
Limited surgery and radiation therapy
Limited surgery is used to treat some craniopharyngiomas. It is used to diagnose the tumor, remove fluid from a cyst, and relieve any pressure on the optic nerves. Limited surgery is followed by radiation therapy. This treatment option may have fewer serious side effects than surgery to remove tumor from the pituitary gland or hypothalamus.
Radiation therapy is a tumor treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill tumor cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the tumor. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the tumor. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type of tumor being treated and whether it has spread.
Because radiation therapy to the brain can affect growth and development in young children, ways of giving radiation therapy that have fewer side effects are being studied. These include:
- Stereotactic radiosurgery: For very small craniopharyngiomas at the base of the skull, stereotactic radiosurgery may be used. Stereotactic radiosurgery uses a head frame to aim radiation at the tumor only. This treatment is also called stereotaxic radiosurgery.
- Intracavitary radiation therapy: Intracavitary radiation therapy is a type of internal radiation therapy that may be used in tumors that are part solid mass and part fluid-filled cyst. Radioactive material is sent directly into the tumor, and causes less damage to the nearby hypothalamus and optic nerves.
- Intensity-modulated proton therapy: A type of radiation therapy that uses streams of protons (tiny particles with a positive charge) to kill tumor cells. A computer is used to target the exact shape and location of the tumor with proton therapy. This type of 3-dimensional radiation therapy may cause less damage to healthy tissue in the brain and other parts of the body. Proton radiation is different from x-ray radiation.