Oncologist-approved cancer information from the American Society of Clinical Oncology
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Craniopharyngioma - Childhood

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 3/2013

ON THIS PAGE: You will find a list of the common tests, procedures, and scans that doctors can use to find out what’s wrong and identify the cause of the problem. To see other pages in this guide, use the colored boxes on the right side of your screen, or click “Next” at the bottom.

In diagnosing craniopharyngioma, your child’s doctor may consider different factors when choosing tests, including:

  • Child’s age and medical condition
  • Type of tumor suspected
  • Signs and symptoms
  • Previous test results

The tests listed below may be used to diagnose craniopharyngioma. This list describes options for diagnosing craniopharyngioma, and not all tests listed will be used for every person.

Physical examination. The doctor will examine the patient’s head and body and ask questions about the symptoms the patient is experiencing and his/her medical history. This may also include tests to check the patient’s vision and CNS functioning.

Blood tests. The doctor may recommend different blood tests, including checking the levels of certain hormones, to help determine whether there is reason to look for a brain tumor.

Results of the physical examination and blood tests may suggest that imaging tests are needed to look for a craniopharyngioma. There are two main types of imaging tests used to find craniopharyngioma.

Computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan. A CT scan creates a three-dimensional picture of the brain with an x-ray machine. A computer then combines these images into a detailed, cross-sectional view that shows abnormalities or tumors. Sometimes, a contrast medium (a special dye) is injected into a patient’s vein to provide better detail.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI uses magnetic fields, not x-rays, to produce detailed images of the brain and spinal column. An MRI scan can also be used to measure the tumor’s size. A contrast medium may be injected into a patient’s vein or given orally to create a clearer picture.

Biopsy.  A biopsy is the removal and examination of a small piece of tumor. A neurosurgeon is a doctor who specializes in CNS surgery. For craniopharyngioma, this means that a neurosurgeon removes a sample of the tumor or the entire tumor so that a pathologist can look at it under a microscope. A pathologist is a doctor who specializes in interpreting laboratory tests and evaluating cells, tissues, and organs to diagnose disease. A neuropathologist is a pathologist who specializes in CNS tissues and diseases. During the surgery, a small piece of tumor may be removed at first and analyzed by the pathologist so that the surgeon knows what kind of tumor it is. Most neurosurgeons will try to remove as much of the tumor as possible once they know that it is a craniopharyngioma (see Treatment Options).

After these diagnostic tests are done, your child’s doctor will review all of the results with you. 

Choose “Next” (below, right) to continue reading this guide, or use the colored boxes located on the right side of your screen to visit any section.

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