Management of recurrent craniopharyngioma

Acta Neurochir (Wien). 1998;140(5):447-54. doi: 10.1007/s007010050123.


Although histologically benign, craniopharyngioma can regrow either from macroscopic remnants of the tumour left behind at operation, or even after an apparently gross total removal. Recurrence rates vary significantly in the literature, depending on the efficacy of surgical treatment and also on the growth potential of the tumour itself. The main factor influencing tumour regrowth is obviously the extent of surgical resection, as total removal carries a much lesser risk of recurrence compared to subtotal or partial resections (although in such cases radiation therapy can lower this risk significantly). Other factors involved are the duration of follow-up and patient's age at operation, as children tend to relapse more frequently than adults. Even in the "microsurgery" era, characterized by high percentages of total resections, recurrences remain high and continue to represent a major problem of craniopharyngioma treatment. Twenty-seven children and adolescents were operated on for craniopharyngioma at the Department of Neurosurgery, Section of Pediatric Neurosurgery, Catholic University Medical School, Rome between June 1985 and June 1997. Total tumour resection was achieved in 18 cases, subtotal in 7 and partial in 2 instances. One patient died post-operatively. Post-operative neuroradiological investigations confirmed the operative findings, although 3 children with an apparently gross total removal showed a residual non-enhancing calcium fleck adherent to the hypothalamus (which remained stable at the following examinations). Three of the 9 patients with less than total removal underwent post-operative radiation therapy. Out of the 26 surviving patients 6 presented a recurrence of their craniopharyngioma, 2 after an apparently gross total removal and 4 after a subtotal or partial resection (one of them had received radiation therapy). The diagnosis was merely neuroradiological in 5 cases, as only one child presented a clinical picture suggestive of tumour regrowth. Surgery was the first therapeutic option in all the cases. Total tumour resection was accomplished in 3 cases, subtotal in 2 and partial in the last one. One child died post-operatively. Four of the 5 survivors received radiation therapy. All the patients are presently alive and stable (mean follow-up: 5.6 yrs). The authors conclude that surgery should be the first therapeutic option in case of recurrent craniopharyngioma and that radiation therapy should also be considered but only as adjuvant therapy.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Craniopharyngioma / diagnosis
  • Craniopharyngioma / radiotherapy
  • Craniopharyngioma / surgery*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / prevention & control*
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / radiotherapy
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / surgery
  • Neoplasm, Residual
  • Patient Selection
  • Pituitary Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Pituitary Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • Pituitary Neoplasms / surgery
  • Postoperative Complications
  • Radiotherapy, Adjuvant
  • Reoperation / methods
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome