Types of Skull Base Tumors

Skull base tumors may grow in the area behind the nose and eyes, near the ear, and along the base of the brain.

Not all skull base tumors are cancerous (malignant). But even noncancerous (benign) skull base tumors need evaluation because they can cause harmful symptoms. At Michigan Medicine, we have the experienced team that can provide effective care for all types of skull base tumors.

Symptoms of Skull Base Tumors

Symptoms of skull base tumors depend on the size and location of the tumor and may include:

  • Blindness or blurred vision
  • Altered sense of taste and smell
  • Difficulty swallowing or speaking
  • Headaches
  • Hearing loss and ringing in the ear
  • Dizziness and loss of balance

Diagnosing Skull Base Tumors

To diagnose a skull base tumor, we start by discussing your symptoms and performing a physical examination. We also do a full neurological evaluation to determine any effect on any important functions.

We confirm a diagnosis with non-invasive testing such as CT scans and MRI. Depending on the location of the tumor, we may be able to biopsy (remove a tissue sample) in the nose or sinuses. We can comfortably examine its impact on the function of the voicebox and other important nerves in the head and neck region.

Treating a Full Range of Skull Base Tumors

Michigan Medicine provides a range of skull base treatments you can’t find elsewhere in the state. No matter the size or location of a tumor, we can help. Some skull base tumors just need careful monitoring. Others need surgical removal, with our team working to maintain your appearance and function.

We provide treatment for a wide range of skull base tumors:

Posterior Skull Base Tumors

These tumors develop at the back of the skull:

  • Acoustic neuromas: Also known as vestibular schwannomas, these benign tumors can affect the nerves of hearing, balance, and facial function. Sometimes these are slow-growing, and we may recommend a watch-and-wait approach before considering treatment. Learn more about acoustic neuromas.
  • Chondrosarcomas: These tumors may cause headaches and problems with hearing and vision. Chondrosarcomas often grow near the pituitary gland. We treat them with surgery and, less frequently, chemotherapy.
  • Chordomas: These cancerous tumors form along the spine, including where it meets the skull base. They are slow growing but may become quite large before they are detected, and may affect nerves to the face and eyes. We may recommend surgery and/or radiation therapy.
  • Facial nerve tumors: These slow-growing tumors, also known as facial nerve schwannomas, are almost always benign. They can cause facial weakness or paralysis similar to Bell’s palsy.
  • Meningiomas: This skull base tumor arises from the membranes surrounding the brain and spine. Meningiomas are often challenging to remove and require a skilled surgeon.
  • Neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2): These tumors are tied to a genetic problem that is often inherited from a parent. It causes tumors on both sides of the head, and may lead to deafness and facial paralysis. People with the most serious form of NF2 are often diagnosed as children or young adults. Our team may be able to remove the tumors with surgery and preserve hearing, an option that many programs cannot offer.
  • Other cranial nerve schwannomas: Trigeminal nerve schwannomas and other cranial nerve schwannomas may cause a variety of symptoms, depending on the nerve they affect. These tumors can grow very large. Head and neck surgeons partner with neurosurgeons to safely remove them.
  • Paragangliomas: These tumors are typically benign but bloody tumors that may form in the middle ear or the top of the jugular vein in the skull base. Our radiologists embolize paragangliomas before surgery, reducing blood supply to the tumor to shorten the operating time and limit blood loss. Sometimes radiation therapy is a safer option for treating larger tumors.

Anterior (Front) Skull Base

These tumors develop in the region around the eye sockets and sinuses and include:

  • Sinus and nasal tumors: These rare tumors can be cancerous or noncancerous. Types of sinus and nasal tumors include sinol nasal undifferentiated carcinoma (SNUC) and neuroendocrine carcinoma of the sinuses. Treatments may include surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Find out more about sinus and nasal tumors.
  • Olfactory neuroblastoma (esthesioneuroblastoma): This cancer develops in the cribriform plate, a bone located deep in the skull between the eyes. It affects the nerve tissues that control the sense of smell. Treatment may include surgery.

Central Skull Base (Middle Cranial Fossa)

Central skull base tumors develop behind the eyes and around the pituitary gland. We treat pituitary adenomas, Rathke’s cleft cyst and other central skull base tumors. Find out more about treatment for pituitary tumors.

Make an Appointment

To schedule an evaluation for a tumor or other skull base condition, please call us at 734-936-8051.