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Craniopharyngioma - Childhood - Overview

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 04/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will find some basic information about this disease and the parts of the body it may affect. This is the first page of Cancer.Net’s Guide to Childhood Craniopharyngioma. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen. Think of that menu as a roadmap to this full guide.

Craniopharyngioma is a type of central nervous system (CNS) tumor. A tumor can be cancerous or benign. A cancerous tumor is malignant, meaning it is usually fast-growing and can spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor means the tumor is usually slower-growing but will not spread. Craniopharyngioma is a benign tumor that is usually slow-growing and very unlikely to spread.

About the central nervous system

The brain and spinal cord make up the CNS, where all vital functions of the body are controlled. The brain is the center of thought, memory, and emotion. It controls the five senses, which include smell, touch, taste, hearing, and sight. It also controls movement and other basic body functions, including consciousness, heartbeat, circulation, and breathing. The spinal cord is made up of nerves that carry information from the body to the brain and from the brain to the body. When a tumor grows in the CNS, it can affect a person’s thought processes and/or movements. A tumor in the CNS can sometimes be difficult to treat because the tissue around the tumor may be vital to the body’s functioning. However, treatment for craniopharyngioma has a high rate of success.

Craniopharyngioma starts near the pituitary gland in a part of the brain called the suprasellar region. This region is the area of the brain just above the sella. The sella is the part of the skull where the pituitary gland is located. The pituitary gland is an important gland in the brain and is often called the “master endocrine gland” because it produces several different hormones that affect how the body functions.

About craniopharyngioma

Craniopharyngioma is a slow-growing tumor that can grow for many years before it is found. It can be solid and/or cystic, which means the tumor has a closed pouch or sac that contains fluid made by the tumor. The solid part often contains areas of calcium that can easily be seen on a CT scan. The cystic part of the tumor often contains very high amounts of protein.

This section covers craniopharyngioma that occurs in children. For information about craniopharyngioma in adults, read the guide to brain tumors.

Looking for More of an Overview?

If you would like additional introductory information, explore these related items. Please note these links will take you to other sections on Cancer.Net:

  • ASCO Answers Fact Sheet: Read a one-page fact sheet (available as a PDF) that offers an easy-to-print introduction to CNS tumors in children.

  • Cancer.Net Patient Education Videos: View short videos led by ASCO experts in childhood tumors and cancers and brain tumors that provide basic information and areas of research.

The next section in this guide is Statistics and it helps explain how many children are diagnosed with this disease and general survival rates. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.

Craniopharyngioma - Childhood - Statistics

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 05/2014

ON THIS PAGE: You will find information about how many children are diagnosed with craniopharyngioma each year and some general survival information. Remember, survival rates depend on several factors. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Craniopharyngioma accounts for approximately 6% of all brain tumors in children.  It is diagnosed most often between the ages of 5 and 14, but it is possible for a person of any age to be diagnosed with craniopharyngioma.

The five-year survival rate is the percentage of people who survive at least five years after the tumor is found. The five-year survival rate for children with craniopharyngioma, as well as the 10-year survival rate, is higher than 90%.

Survival statistics should be interpreted with caution. These estimates are based on data from thousands of children with this type of tumor, so the actual risk for a particular individual may be different. It is not possible to tell a person how long he or she will live with craniopharyngioma. Because the survival statistics are measured in multi-year intervals, they may not represent advances made in the treatment or diagnosis of this tumor or longer-term survival rates. Learn more about understanding statistics.

Statistics source is the National Cancer Institute.

The next section in this guide is Medical Illustrations and it offers drawings of body parts often affected by this disease. Or, use the menu on the left side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.  

Craniopharyngioma - Childhood - Medical Illustrations

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 04/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will find a basic drawing about the main body parts affected by this disease. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Childhood CNS Anatomy

Larger image

The next section in this guide is Risk Factors and it explains what factors may increase the chance of developing this disease. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.

Craniopharyngioma - Childhood - Risk Factors

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 04/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about the factors that increase the chance of developing craniopharyngioma. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing a tumor. Although risk factors often influence the development of a tumor, most do not directly cause a tumor. Some people with several risk factors never develop a tumor, while others with no known risk factors do.

The cause of craniopharyngioma is not known, and there are no proven risk factors.

The next section in this guide is Symptoms and Signs and it explains what body changes or medical problems this disease can cause. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.

Craniopharyngioma - Childhood - Symptoms and Signs

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 04/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about body changes and other things that can signal a problem that may need medical care. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Children with craniopharyngioma may experience any of the symptoms or signs listed below. Sometimes, children with craniopharyngioma do not show any of these symptoms, or these symptoms may be caused by another medical condition not related to the tumor.

Symptoms of craniopharyngioma can be caused by pressure building up in the brain, or by the tumor pressing on nerves or blood vessels so that the brain cannot function properly in those areas. Generally, craniopharyngioma is not diagnosed until a child has symptoms.

General symptoms include:

  • Headaches, which may be severe and worse in the early morning

  • Nausea and/or vomiting

  • Difficulty with balance

  • Increased sleepiness or fatigue

  • Mood or behavior changes

Location-specific symptoms include:

  • Vision changes, blurriness, or loss of peripheral vision

  • Excessive thirst

  • Increased urination

  • Slow or halted growth

  • Excessive weight gain

  • Early or delayed puberty

If you are concerned about one or more of the symptoms or signs on this list, please talk with your child’s doctor. Your doctor will ask how long and how often your child has been experiencing the symptom(s), in addition to other questions. This is to help find out the cause of the problem, called a diagnosis.

If a tumor is diagnosed, relieving symptoms remains an important part of your child’s care and treatment. This may also be called symptom management or supportive care. Be sure to talk with the health care team about symptoms your child experiences, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms.

The next section in this guide is Diagnosis and it explains what tests may be needed to learn more about the cause of the symptoms. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.

Craniopharyngioma - Childhood - Diagnosis

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 04/2015

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, use the menu on the side of your screen.

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 your child’s head and body and ask questions about the symptoms he or she is experiencing and his/her medical history. This may also include tests to check your child’s vision and CNS function.

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

  • 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).

Imaging tests

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, including tumors. Sometimes, a special dye called a contrast medium is given during the scan to provide better detail. This dye is injected into a patient’s vein.

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

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

The next section in this guide is Stages, and it explains that doctors do not commonly use stage to describe craniopharyngioma. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.

Craniopharyngioma - Childhood - Stages

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 04/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will learn that because of the nature of craniopharyngioma, doctors do not commonly use stage to describe this tumor.

In cancer, staging is typically how doctors describe the extent of disease in a person’s body. However, craniopharyngioma rarely, if ever, spreads to parts of the body far from where it started. Therefore, there is no standard staging system for this type of tumor.

The next section in this guide is Treatment Options. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.

Craniopharyngioma - Childhood - Treatment Options

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 04/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will learn about the different ways doctors use to treat children with craniopharyngioma. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

To take advantage of special expertise necessary to treat a brain tumor, children with brain tumors should be treated at a specialized pediatric center. Doctors at these centers have extensive experience in treating children with brain tumors and have access to the latest technology. A doctor who specializes in treating children with a tumor is called a pediatric oncologist. A doctor who specializes in treating children with a brain tumor is called a pediatric neuro-oncologist. If a pediatric cancer center is not nearby, general cancer centers sometimes have pediatric specialists who are able to be part of your child’s care.

In many cases, a team of doctors provides care to a child and the family; this is called a multidisciplinary team. Pediatric treatment centers often have extra support services for children and their families, such as child life specialists, nurse specialists, dietitians, physical and occupational therapists, social workers, and counselors. Special activities and programs to help your child and family cope may also be available.

Treatment overview

Treatment for craniopharyngioma has a high rate of success. Descriptions of the treatment options for craniopharyngioma are listed below. The treatment plan used depends on whether the tumor can be completely removed by surgery. If the tumor cannot be completely removed, radiation therapy is usually recommended. However, the side effects of radiation therapy must be considered when deciding on the best treatment for very young children. Radiation therapy can cause permanent learning and memory problems. Radiation therapy can also slow a child’s metabolism and decrease the levels of hormones needed for the body to function well.

There are treatments being studied in clinical trials for patients whose tumor cannot be completely removed, but who would like to avoid or delay the need for radiation therapy. Talk with your doctor whether this might be an option for your child. Your child’s care plan may also include treatment for symptoms and side effects, an important part of cancer care.

Take time to learn about all of your child’s treatment options and be sure to ask questions about things that are unclear. Also, talk about the goals of each treatment with your child’s doctor and what your child can expect during treatment. Learn more about making treatment decisions.

Surgery

Surgery is the most common treatment for craniopharyngioma. A neurosurgeon is a doctor who specializes in removing brain tumors.

The goal of surgery is to confirm the diagnosis and remove as much tumor as possible. Complete removal of craniopharyngioma may also be called a complete resection. This is possible for about 70% to 85% of children.  

Possible side effects of surgery depend on the tumor’s location. Surgery may damage parts of the brain near the tumor, affecting hormone function, metabolism, vision, arm and leg movement, or consciousness. Sometimes, the tumor may have grown into the optic chiasm, which is an area of the brain that controls vision, or major blood vessels, making it difficult to remove the tumor. Some tumors cannot be removed using surgery because of their location and can only be biopsied. These tumors are called inoperable, and the doctor will recommend treating the tumor in another way.

The doctor may recommend additional treatment following surgery. Research studies have shown that people with craniopharyngioma that was partially removed who received radiation therapy live as long as those who had a complete removal of the tumor, and often have fewer side effects, such as stroke, severe bleeding, or damage to the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is a small structure that regulates the pituitary gland’s production of hormones and many other body functions. Talk with your child’s doctor before treatment begins about the potential side effects for your child based on the recommended treatment plan.

Learn more about the basics of surgery.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy x-rays or other particles to destroy tumor cells. A doctor who specializes in giving radiation therapy to treat a tumor is called a radiation oncologist. The most common type of radiation treatment is called external-beam radiation therapy, which is radiation given from a machine outside the body. Because radiation therapy can interfere with the growth and development of a child’s brain, advanced treatment planning techniques should be used to reduce the amount of radiation to the areas of the brain not affected by the tumor.

Radiosurgery is a way to deliver a single, high dose of radiation therapy to the tumor while sparing other areas of the brain. This technique requires a head frame to help localize the tumor, so doctors know exactly where to deliver the radiation treatment. This type of radiation is generally used for recurrent craniopharyngioma (see below).

Short-term side effects from radiation therapy may include fatigue, mild skin reactions and nausea. These side effects go away soon after treatment is finished. More permanent side effects can include hair loss, learning difficulties, low hormone levels, weight gain, and memory problems. Talk with your doctor about possible short- and long-term effects of your child’s treatment plan.

Learn more about the basics of radiation therapy.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)

HRT is the use of medication to replace hormones when the body cannot produce enough on its own. It is often necessary for children with craniopharyngioma because the tumor or its treatment may damage parts of the brain that make hormones, particularly the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus. An endocrinologist is a doctor who specializes in problems with glands and the endocrine system. This specialist will work with you and your child to determine the hormonal therapy that is needed.

Getting care for symptoms and side effects

A brain tumor and its treatment often cause side effects. In addition to treatment to slow, stop, or eliminate the tumor, an important part of care is relieving a person’s symptoms and side effects. This approach is called palliative or supportive care, and it includes supporting the patient with his or her physical, emotional, and social needs.

Palliative care is any treatment that focuses on reducing symptoms, improving quality of life, and supporting patients and their families. Any person, regardless of age or type of tumor, may receive palliative care. It works best when palliative care is started as early as needed in the treatment process. People often receive treatment for the tumor and treatment to ease side effects at the same time. In fact, patients who receive both often have less severe symptoms, better quality of life, and report they are more satisfied with treatment.

Palliative treatments vary widely and often include medication, nutritional changes, relaxation techniques, emotional support, and other therapies. Your child may also receive palliative treatments similar to those meant to eliminate the tumor, such as surgery or radiation therapy. Talk with your child’s doctor about the goals of each treatment in the treatment plan.

Before treatment begins, talk with the health care team about the possible side effects of your child’s specific treatment plan and palliative care options. Be sure to tell your child’s doctor or another health care team member if your child is experiencing a problem during and after treatment so it can be addressed as quickly as possible. Learn more about palliative care.   

Chance of the tumor coming back or worsening

When the tumor cannot be seen on an MRI scan, this is called having “no evidence of disease” or NED. The uncertainty of whether the tumor will come back causes many patients and families to feel worried or anxious. While the chance of the tumor coming back may be low, it is important to talk with your child’s doctor about the possibility of the tumor returning. Understanding your child’s risk of recurrence and the treatment options may help you and your family feel more prepared if the tumor does return. Learn more about coping with the fear of recurrence

If the tumor does return or grow back after the original treatment, it is called a recurrent tumor. When a recurrence happens, craniopharyngioma most commonly comes back in the same place (called a local recurrence) or nearby (regional recurrence).

When this occurs, more tests may be done to learn as much as possible about the recurrence. After testing is done, your child’s doctor will talk about your treatment options. Often the treatment plan will include the treatments described above such as surgery and/or radiation therapy, but the same type of radiation therapy cannot usually be used more than once. There are also treatments being studied in clinical trials for children with recurrent or worsening craniopharyngioma. Talk with your doctor whether this might be an option for your child. Whichever treatment plan you choose, palliative care will be important for relieving symptoms and side effects.

When a tumor recurs, patients and their families often experience emotions such as disbelief or fear. Families are encouraged to talk with their health care team about these feelings and ask about support services to help them cope. Learn more about dealing with a recurrence.

If treatment fails

Although treatment is successful for the vast majority of children with craniopharyngioma, sometimes it is not. If a child’s tumor cannot be cured or controlled, this is called an advanced or terminal tumor. This diagnosis is stressful, and advanced craniopharyngioma may be difficult to discuss. However, it is important to have open and honest conversations with your child’s doctor and health care team to express your family’s feelings, preferences, and concerns. The health care team is there to help, and many team members have special skills, experience, and knowledge to support patients and their families.

Parents or guardians are encouraged to think about where the child would be most comfortable: at home, in a home-like setting elsewhere, in the hospital, or in a hospice environment. Hospice care is a type of palliative care for people who are expected to live less than six months. It is designed to provide the best possible quality of life for people who are near the end of life. Nursing care and special equipment can make staying at home a workable alternative for many families. Some children may be happier if they can arrange to attend school part-time or keep up other activities and social connections. The child’s health care team can help parents or guardians decide on an appropriate level of activity. Making sure a child is physically comfortable and free from pain is extremely important as part of end-of-life care. Learn more about caring for a terminally ill child and advanced care planning.

The death of a child is an enormous tragedy, and families may need support to help them cope with the loss. Pediatric cancer centers often have professional staff and support groups to help with the process of grieving. Learn more on grieving the loss of a child.

The next section in this guide is About Clinical Trials and it offers more information about research studies that are focused on finding better ways to care for people with cancer. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.

Craniopharyngioma - Childhood - About Clinical Trials

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 04/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will learn more about clinical trials, which are the main way that new medical approaches are tested to see how well they work. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

What are clinical trials?

Doctors and scientists are always looking for better ways to care for children with a brain tumor. To make scientific advances, doctors develop research studies involving volunteers, called clinical trials. In fact, every drug that is now approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was previously tested in clinical trials.

Many clinical trials are focused on new treatments, evaluating whether a new treatment is safe, effective, and possibly better than the current (standard) treatment. These types of studies evaluate new drugs, different combinations of existing treatments, new approaches to radiation therapy or surgery, and new methods of treatment.

Children who participate in clinical trials are often among the first to receive new treatments before they are widely available. However, there is no guarantee that the new treatment will be safe, effective, or better than the standard treatment. 

There are also clinical trials that study new ways to ease symptoms and side effects during treatment and manage the late effects that may occur after treatment. Talk with your child’s doctor about clinical trials regarding side effects.

Deciding to join a clinical trial

Patients decide to participate in clinical trials for many reasons. Because standard treatments are not perfect, patients are often willing to face the added uncertainty of a clinical trial in the hope of a better result. Other patients volunteer for clinical trials because they know that these studies are the only way to make progress in treating craniopharyngioma. Even if they do not benefit directly from the clinical trial, their participation may benefit future children with craniopharyngioma.

Most children with craniopharyngioma do not receive treatment in clinical trials if the surgeon can remove all of tumor or if their age and tumor size does not limit the use of radiation therapy. Generally, clinical trials provide treatment options when a tumor cannot be surgically removed, for those who want to delay or avoid radiation therapy, or for those with tumors that have grown back after surgery and/or radiation therapy.

Sometimes people have concerns that, in a clinical trial, their child may receive no treatment by being given a placebo or a “sugar pill.” The use of placebos in cancer clinical trials in this way is rare overall and not done at all in childhood cancer research. Find out more about placebos in cancer clinical trials.

Patient safety and informed consent

To join a clinical trial, parents and children must participate in a process known as informed consent. During informed consent, the doctor should list all of the patient’s options, so that the person understands how the new treatment differs from the standard treatment. The doctor must also list all of the risks of the new treatment, which may or may not be different from the risks of standard treatment. Finally, the doctor must explain what will be required of each patient in order to participate in the clinical trial, including the number of doctor visits, tests, and the schedule of treatment.

Patients who participate in a clinical trial may stop participating at any time for any personal or medical reason. This may include that the new treatment is not working or there are serious side effects. Clinical trials are also closely monitored by experts who watch for any problems with each study. It is important that parents of patients participating in a clinical trial talk with their doctor and researchers about who will be providing their treatment and care during the clinical trial, after the clinical trial ends, and/or if the patient chooses to leave the clinical trial before it ends. 

Finding a clinical trial

Research through clinical trials is ongoing for all types of cancer. For specific topics being studied for craniopharyngioma, learn more in the Latest Research section.

Cancer.Net offers a lot of information about clinical trials in other areas of the website, including a complete section on clinical trials and places to search for clinical trials for a specific type of tumor.

In addition, this website offers free access to a video-based educational program about cancer clinical trials, located outside of this guide.

The next section in this guide is Latest Research and it explains areas of scientific research currently going on for this type of cancer. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.

Craniopharyngioma - Childhood - Latest Research

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 04/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about the scientific research being done now to learn more about craniopharyngioma and how to treat it. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

For craniopharyngioma, due to the general success of surgery and radiation therapy, research focuses on treatments for recurrent tumors or tumors that are unable to be completely removed with surgery. There is also ongoing research to understand what allows craniopharyngioma to grow. Always talk with your child’s doctor about the diagnostic and treatment options best for your child.

  • Different methods of giving drugs.  Interferon given by weekly injection under the skin, called pegylated interferon, and chemotherapy or interferon (Roferon-A, Intron A, Alferon) injected directly into the tumor cyst (if there is a large one), are being looked at to treat some patients with craniopharyngioma. Interferon is a type of biologic therapy. Biologic therapy is designed to target areas on the tumor cells or the tumor blood vessels to try to stop the tumor from growing. Interferon is also part of the body’s natural immune system.

  • Improved methods of giving radiation therapy. For patients with a tumor that cannot be completely removed during surgery, doctors are studying new techniques for giving radiation therapy. The use of three-dimensional radiation techniques allows high doses of radiation therapy to be delivered to the tumor with lower doses to healthy brain tissue. These methods may help reduce damage to healthy tissues.

Looking for More About the Latest Research?

If you would like additional information about the latest areas of research regarding craniopharyngioma, explore these related items that take you outside of this guide:

  • To find clinical trials specific to your diagnosis, talk with your child’s doctor or search online clinical trial databases now.

  • Visit ASCO’s CancerProgress.Net website to learn more about the historical pace of research for childhood tumors and cancers. Please note this link takes you to a separate ASCO website. 

  • Visit the website of the Conquer Cancer Foundation to find out how to help support research for every cancer type. Please note this link takes you to a separate ASCO website.

The next section in this guide is Coping with Side Effects and it offers some guidance in how to cope with the physical, emotional, and social changes that cancer and its treatment can bring. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.

Craniopharyngioma - Childhood - Coping with Side Effects

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 04/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about steps to take to help cope with physical, social, and emotional side effects. This page includes several links outside of this guide to other sections of this website. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Fear of treatment side effects is common after a diagnosis of a brain tumor, but it may help to know that preventing and controlling side effects is a major focus of your child’s health care team. This is called palliative care, and it is an important part of the overall treatment plan, regardless of the stage of disease.

There are possible side effects for every treatment, but patients don’t experience the same side effects when given the same treatments for many reasons. That can make it hard to predict exactly how your child will feel during treatment. Common side effects from each treatment option for craniopharyngioma are described in detail within the Treatment Options section. Learn more about the most common side effects of a tumor and different treatments, along with ways to prevent or control them. Side effects depend on a variety of factors, including the length and dosage of treatment(s) and your child’s overall health.

Talking with your health care team about side effects

Before treatment begins, talk with your child’s doctor about possible side effects of each type of treatment your child will be receiving. Ask which side effects are most likely to happen, when they are likely to occur, and what can be done to prevent or relieve them.

And, ask about the level of caregiving your child may need during treatment and recovery, as family members and friends often play an important role in the care of a child with craniopharyngioma. Learn more about caregiving.

In addition to physical side effects, there may be emotional and social effects as well. Patients and their families are encouraged to share their feelings with a member of their health care team who can help with coping strategies, including concerns about managing the cost of your medical care

During and after treatment, be sure to tell the health care team about the side effects your child experiences, even if you feel they are not serious. Sometimes, side effects can last beyond the treatment period, called a long-term side effect. A side effect that occurs months or years after treatment is called a late effect. Treatment of both types of effects is an important part of survivorship care. Learn more by reading the Follow-up Care section of this guide or talking with your child’s doctor.

The next section in this guide is Follow-up Care and it explains the importance of check-ups after treatment is finished. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.

Craniopharyngioma - Childhood - Follow-Up Care

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 04/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about your child’s medical care after treatment is finished and why this follow-up care is important. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Care for children diagnosed with craniopharyngioma doesn’t end when active treatment has finished. Your child’s health care team will continue to check to make sure the tumor has not returned, manage any side effects, and monitor your child’s overall health. This is called follow-up care. All children treated for craniopharyngioma should have life-long, follow-up care.

This plan may include regular physical examinations and/or MRI scans to monitor your child’s recovery for the coming months and years. Follow-up care is important to find out whether the tumor has returned or is starting to grow again.

Learn more about the importance of follow-up care.

Watching for recurrence

One goal of follow-up care is to check for a recurrence. A tumor recurs because small areas of tumor cells may remain undetected in the body. Over time, these cells may increase in number until they show up on test results or cause signs or symptoms.

During follow-up care, a doctor familiar with your child’s medical history can give you personalized information about the risk of recurrence. Your doctor will also ask specific questions about your child’s health. Some children may have blood tests or imaging tests as part of regular follow-up care, but testing recommendations depend on several factors, including the type of tumor originally diagnosed and the types of treatment given.

A child treated for craniopharyngioma should have regular MRI scans to check for any growth or recurrence of the tumor. Because craniopharyngioma is slow-growing, MRI scans are often only needed once or twice a year. If your child received radiation therapy, there is a small possibility that a different type of brain tumor may develop years later.

Managing long-term and late side effects of a childhood brain tumor

Sometimes, side effects may linger beyond the active treatment period. These are called long-term side effects. In addition, other side effects called late effects may develop months or even years afterwards. Late effects can occur almost anywhere in the body and include physical problems, such as heart and lung problems and second cancers, and emotional and cognitive (memory, thinking, and attention) problems, such as anxiety, depression, and learning difficulties.

Based on the type of treatment your child received, the doctor will recommend what examinations and tests are needed to check for late effects. It is important to monitor the person’s visual, endocrine (hormone), and metabolic functions. As a result of the tumor and its treatment, hormone replacement therapy (see Treatment Options) is almost always needed. Children who received treatment for craniopharyngioma often have problems with a slow metabolism and weight gain. A regular exercise program and dietary changes are often recommended. Follow-up care should address your child’s quality of life, including any developmental or emotional concerns.

The Children's Oncology Group (COG) has studied the physical and psychological effects that childhood survivors face. Based on these studies, COG has created recommendations for long-term follow-up care for childhood, adolescent, and young adult survivors that can be found on a separate website: www.survivorshipguidelines.org.

Keeping a child’s personal health record

You are encouraged to organize and keep a personal record of the child’s medical information. The doctor will help you create this. That way, as the child enters adulthood, he or she has a clear, written history of the diagnosis, the treatment given, and the doctor’s recommendations about the schedule for follow-up care. ASCO offers forms to help create a treatment summary to keep track of the cancer treatment your child received and develop a survivorship care plan once treatment is completed.

Some children continue to see their oncologist, while others transition back to the general care of their family doctor or another health care professional. This decision depends on several factors, including the type of tumor, side effects, health insurance rules, and your family’s personal preferences. Talk with your health care team about your child’s ongoing medical care and any concerns you have about his or her future health.

If a doctor who was not directly involved in your child’s care for craniopharyngioma will lead the follow-up care, be sure to share the treatment summary and survivorship care plan forms with him or her, as well as all future health care providers. Details about the specific treatment given are very valuable to the health care professionals who will care for your child throughout his or her lifetime.

The next section in this guide is Survivorship and it describes how to cope with challenges in everyday life after a diagnosis of craniopharyngioma. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.

Craniopharyngioma - Childhood - Survivorship

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 04/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about how to cope with challenges in everyday life after your child’s diagnosis. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

What is survivorship?

The word survivorship means different things to different people, but it often describes the process of living with, through, and beyond cancer. In some ways, survivorship is one of the most complex aspects of the cancer experience because it is different for every patient and his or her family.

After active treatment ends, children and their families may experience a mixture of strong feelings, including joy, concern, relief, guilt, and fear. Some people say they appreciate life more after the diagnosis. Other families stay very anxious about their child’s health and become uncertain of how to cope with everyday life.

One source of stress may occur when frequent visits to the health care team end following treatment. Often, relationships built with the health care team provide a sense of security during treatment, and children and their families miss this source of support. This may be especially true as new worries and challenges surface over time, such as any late effects of treatment, educational issues, emotional challenges, sexual development and fertility concerns, and/or financial issues.

Every family faces different concerns and challenges. With any challenge, a good first step is being able to recognize each fear and talk about it. Effective coping requires:

  • Understanding the challenge your family is facing,

  • Thinking through solutions,

  • Asking for and allowing the support of others, and

  • Feeling comfortable with the course of action your family chooses.

It may be helpful to join an in-person support group or online community of childhood survivors. Support groups also exist for parents of children diagnosed with this type of tumor. This allows you to talk with people who have had similar first-hand experiences. Other options for finding support include talking with a friend or member of your health care team, individual counseling, or asking for assistance at the learning resource center of the center where you received treatment.

Changing role of caregivers

Parents, other family members, and friends may also go through periods of transition. A caregiver plays a very important role in supporting a child diagnosed with craniopharyngioma, providing physical, emotional, and practical care on a daily or as-needed basis. Many caregivers become focused on providing this support, especially if the treatment period lasts for many months or longer.

However, as treatment is completed, the caregiver's role often changes. Eventually, the need for caregiving related to a child’s diagnosis will become much less or come to an end as your child gets older. Family counselors at pediatric cancer centers can help with this transition. You can also learn more about adjusting to life after caregiving in this article.

Healthy living after craniopharyngioma

Survivorship often serves as a strong motivator to make positive lifestyle changes, often for the family as a whole.

Children who have had a tumor can enhance the quality of their future by following established guidelines for good health into and through adulthood, including not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, eating well, managing stress, and participating in regular physical activity. Talk with the doctor about developing a plan that is best for your child’s needs. Learn more about making healthy lifestyle choices.

In addition, it is important that your child has recommended medical check-ups and tests (see Follow-up Care) to take care of his or her health. Rehabilitation may be recommended, and this could mean any of a wide range of services such as physical therapy, family or individual counseling, nutritional planning, and/or educational assistance. The goal of rehabilitation is to help survivors and their families regain control over many aspects of their lives and remain as independent and productive as possible.

Talk with your doctor to develop a survivorship care plan that is best for your child’s needs.

Looking for More Survivorship Resources?

For more information about survivorship, explore these related items. Please note these links will take you to other sections of Cancer.Net:

  • Survivorship Resources: Cancer.Net offers a lot of information and resources to help survivors cope, including specific sections for children, teens, and young adults. There is also a main section on survivorship for people of all ages.

  • ASCO Answers Cancer Survivorship Guide: This 44-page booklet (available as a PDF) can help with the transition into life after treatment. It includes blank treatment summary and survivorship care plan forms.

  • Cancer.Net Patient Education Video: View a short video led by an ASCO expert that provides information about childhood cancer survivorship.

The next section offers Questions to Ask the Doctor to help start conversations with your child’s health care team. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.

Craniopharyngioma - Childhood - Questions to Ask the Doctor

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 04/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will find some questions to ask your child’s doctor or other members of the health care team, to help you better understand the diagnosis, treatment plan, and overall care. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Talking often with the doctor is important to make informed decisions about your child’s health care. These suggested questions are a starting point to help you learn more about your care and treatment. You are also encouraged to ask additional questions that are important to you. You may want to print this list and bring it to your child’s next appointment, or download Cancer.Net’s free mobile app for an e-list and other interactive tools to manage your child’s care.

Questions to ask after getting a diagnosis

  • What type of tumor does my child have?

  • Are other tests or surgery needed to confirm this diagnosis?

  • Can you explain my child’s pathology report (laboratory test results) to me?

  • What is your familiarity with craniopharyngioma and its treatment?

  • How many CNS tumors do you treat each year?

  • Do you attend meetings to discuss complicated tumor cases and possible new treatments for these tumors? What types of specialists attend such meetings?

  • Will an experienced neuropathologist review my child’s pathology slides?

Questions to ask about choosing a treatment and managing side effects

  • What are the treatment options?

  • What clinical trials are open to my child? Where are they located, and how do I find out more about them?

  • Who will be part of my child’s health care team, and what does each member do?

  • Who will be coordinating my child’s overall treatment?

  • What treatment plan do you recommend? Why?

  • What is the goal of each treatment? Is it to eliminate the tumor, help my child feel better, or both?

  • Should I get a second opinion on this treatment plan?

  • Are there pediatric treatment centers that you recommend?

  • What are the chances for success with the planned treatment?

  • Does your practice include multidisciplinary care?

  • What are the possible side effects of this treatment, both in the short term and the long term?

  • Could the treatment affect my child’s vision?

  • How will this treatment affect my child’s daily life? Will he or she be able to go to school and perform his or her usual activities?

  • Is my child at risk for being overweight due to the tumor or its treatment? If so, how can we reduce his/her risk?

  • If I’m worried about managing the costs related to my child’s medical care, who can help me with these concerns?

  • Could this treatment affect my child’s fertility (ability to have a child in the future)?

  • Do you work with a social worker that assists children with CNS tumors and their families?

  • Do you know of a local support group for families with a child diagnosed with a CNS tumor?

  • Do you have reading material that would help me understand my child’s disease?

  • Who answers questions when you are unavailable?

  • What support services are available to my child? To my family?

  • Whom should I call for questions or problems?

Questions to ask about having surgery

  • What type of surgery will my child have?

  • How long will the operation take?

  • How long will he or she be in the hospital?

  • Can you describe what recovery from surgery will be like?

  • What are the possible long-term effects of having this surgery?

Questions to ask about having radiation therapy

  • What type of treatment is recommended?

  • What is the goal of this treatment?

  • How long will it take to give this treatment?

  • What side effects can I expect during treatment?

  • What are the possible long-term effects of having this treatment?

  • What can be done to relieve the side effects?

Questions to ask about planning follow-up care

  • What is the risk of the tumor returning? Are there signs and symptoms I should watch for?

  • What long-term side effects or late effects are possible based on the treatment my child received?

  • What follow-up tests will my child need, and how often will he or she need them?

  • How do I get a treatment summary and survivorship care plan to keep in my personal records?

  • Who will be coordinating my child’s follow-up care?

  • What survivorship support services are available to my child? To my family?

The next section in this guide is Additional Resources, and it offers some more resources on this website beyond this guide that may be helpful to you. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.  

Craniopharyngioma - Childhood - Additional Information Resources

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 04/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will find some helpful links to other areas of Cancer.Net that provide information about medical care and treatment. This is the final page of Cancer.Net’s Guide to Childhood Craniopharyngioma. To go back and review other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Cancer.Net includes many other sections about the medical and emotional aspects of being diagnosed with a tumor, both for the person diagnosed and their family members and friends. This website is meant to be a resource for you and your loved ones from the time of diagnosis, through treatment, and beyond.

Beyond this guide, here are a few links to help you explore other parts of Cancer.Net:

This is the end of the Cancer.Net’s Guide to Childhood Craniopharyngioma. Use the menu on the side of your screen to select another section, to continue reading this guide.