The skull base is the part of your skull behind your eyes and nose, made up of five bones. Your brain rests on your skull base and your spinal cord, blood vessels, and nerves pass through it. Skull base tumors can grow inside the skull or outside the skull base. Cancerous skull base tumors are rare, but non-cancerous (benign) tumors can also grow in the skull base.

There are many different types of skull base tumors, which are categorized based on the location and other characteristics of the tumor.

Symptoms

Skull base cancer often doesn’t cause symptoms. When it does, those symptoms may differ depending on where exactly your tumor is. For example, tumors near the nose are more likely to affect your sense of smell. Common symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Blurry or double vision
  • Face pain or numbness
  • Nosebleeds
  • Ringing in your ears (tinnitus)
  • Changes in your sense of smell
  • Trouble breathing
  • Problems swallowing
  • Losing your voice
  • Problems with your hearing
  • Balance issues
  • Dizziness
  • Memory loss
  • Nausea or vomiting

Treatment

Treatment for skull base cancer depends on where your tumor is located, how big the tumor is, and your overall health. Treating a skull base tumor can be difficult, because of high close they are to the brain, spinal cord, and critical nerves and blood vessels. Potential treatments include:

  • Monitoring your tumor, if it’s small and not causing symptoms
  • Surgery, which may be used as a first treatment for some types of skull base cancer or after radiation or chemotherapy. BMC performs both endoscopic (minimally invasive) surgery and “open procedure” surgery. Minimally invasive surgery is used as the first treatment for skull base cancer whenever possible.
  • Radiation, either by itself or with surgery and/or chemotherapy
  • Cyberknife, a very targeted type of radiation
  • Chemotherapy, either by itself or with radiation and/or surgery
  • Palliative care, to help manage your symptoms and improve quality of life

Risk Factors

Things that increase your chance of developing skull base cancer include:

  • Previous radiation treatment on your head, neck, or brain
  • Exposure to certain chemicals and heavy metals, including some herbicides and arsenic
  • Having the Epstein-Barr virus in the past
  • Certain genetic conditions, such as neurofibromatosis type 2 and multiple endocrine neoplasia type I