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Craniopharyngiomas are rare, congenital benign tumors. They may be located within or above the pituitary gland.

These tumors are typically not diagnosed until they press on important structures around them and cause symptoms.


Craniopharyngiomas can cause a wide variety of symptoms, but unlike pituitary adenomas, this type of tumor does not produce hormones. It does frequently interfere with normal pituitary gland function and may cause pituitary deficiencies.

Symptoms include:

  • Increased cranial pressure
  • Headache
  • Visual disturbances, including double vision and blurring
  • Vomiting without nausea
  • Altered level of consciousness
  • Back pain
  • Pituitary dysfunction and deficiencies
  • Hypogonadism (decreased libido, altered menstrual cycles)
  • Diabetes insipidus (a disorder of water balance with frequent urination and excessive thirst)
  • High blood pressure

Diagnosis & Treatment at UVA

An endocrinologist, neurosurgeon and neuro-ophthalmologist are often involved in the evaluation. 

Tests may include:

  • Pituitary hormone blood tests
  • CT and MRI scans
  • Visual field and acuity testing 
  • Cognitive testing

Medical Therapy

Most patients require hormone replacement(s) because of damage to the normal pituitary gland by the tumor. 


Experts usually recommend complete surgical removal of the craniopharyngioma using either a craniotomy or a transsphenoidal approach.

Depending on your age and the location of the remaining tumor, your surgeon may recommend a more conservative approach using radiation therapy or radiotherapy. In select cases, you may be treated with a less invasive drainage method, followed by a radioactive isotope or antineoplastic agent.   

Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.