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What is a skull base tumor?

The skull base is the area behind the eyes and nose that slopes down to the back of the head; it forms the base of the skull. The spinal cord, multiple nerves and the major blood vessels of the brain, head, and neck pass through openings in the skull base. The term "skull base tumor" refers to the location of the tumor. The type of cancer cell can be one of several; some are cancerous, some are non-cancerous. Even non-cancerous tumors can cause problems because they are growing in a confined space. 


What are the symptoms of skull-based tumors?

Skull base tumors may not produce symptoms until they are already large. If they do have signs, they vary for each patients depending on where the tumor is and how fast it is growing. Skull base tumor symptoms may include:

  • Pain or numbness in the face
  • Weakness in the face
  • Headache
  • Recurrent sinus problems
  • Stopped-up nose
  • Loss of sense of smell
  • Vision loss
  • Double vision
  • Hearing loss
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Dizziness or loss of balance
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hoarseness, losing your voice
  • Difficulty swallowing and frequent choking


How is a skull base tumor diagnosed?

If you have symptoms that may signal a skull base tumor, your physician will examine you and ask you questions about your health and symptoms. In addition, your physician may request one or more of the following tests:

Imaging tests

  • CT or CAT scan to see more detailed images of the brain
  • MRI which uses radio waves and a powerful magnetic field to produce a detailed 3-D or 2-D images of the body tissues and organs
  • PET scan which uses a special dye that has radioactive tracers that are injected into a vein in your arm
  • Angiography which involves the use of dye and X-rays of blood vessels in the brain to look for signs of a tumor or abnormal blood vessels


  • Fine-needle aspiration that involves a thin needle inserted into an area of abnormal-appearing tissue or body fluid collecting a sample to test
  • Endoscope inserted through the nose and sinuses
  • Surgery

Functional testing

  • Hearing test including audiogram, auditory brainstem response
  • Vestibular tests including video nystagmography and rotary chair testing
  • Videostroboscopy of vocal fold function
  • Swallowing test


How is a skull base tumor treated?

Treatments for skull base tumors and conditions may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and/or observation. The treatment depends on many factors such as the location of the tumor or condition, the extent of the tumor and whether it is benign or malignant and your overall health and preferences regarding treatment options.