Craniopharyngiomas (CPs) are rare epithelial tumors that are often associated with an enigmatic and unpredictable growth pattern. Understanding the growth patterns of these tumors has a direct impact on surgical planning and may enhance the safety of radical tumor removal. The aim of this study was to analyze the growth patterns and surgical treatment of CPs with a focus on the involvement of the hypothalamopituitary axis and the relationship of the tumor to the arachnoid membrane and surrounding structures.
Clinical data from 226 consecutive patients with primary CP were retrospectively reviewed. Tumor location and the relationship of the tumor to the third ventricle floor and the pituitary stalk were evaluated using preoperative MRI and intraoperative findings. A topographic classification scheme was proposed based on the site of tumor origin and tumor development. The clinical relevance of this classification on patient presentation and outcomes was also analyzed.
The growth of CPs can be broadly divided into 3 groups based on the site of tumor origin and on tumor-meningeal relationships: Group I, infrasellar/infradiaphragmatic CPs (Id-CPs), which mainly occurred in children; Group II, suprasellar subarachnoid extraventricular CPs (Sa-CPs), which were mainly observed in adults and rarely occurred in children; and Group III, suprasellar subpial ventricular CPs (Sp-CPs), which commonly occurred in both adults and children. Tumors in each group may develop complex growth patterns during vertical expansion along the pituitary stalk. Tumor growth patterns were closely related to both clinical presentation and outcomes. Patients with Sp-CPs had more prevalent weight gain than patients with Id-CPs or Sa-CPs; the rates of significant weight gain were 41.7% for children and 16.7% for adults with Sp-CPs, 2.2% and 7.1% for those with Id-CPs, and 12.5% and 2.6% for those with Sa-CPs (p < 0.001). Moreover, patients with Sp-CPs had increased hypothalamic dysfunction after radical removal; 39% of patients with Sp-CPs, 14.5% with Id-CPs, and 17.4% with Sa-CPs had high-grade hypothalamic dysfunction in the first 2 postoperative years (p < 0.001).
The classification of CPs based on growth pattern may elucidate the best course of treatment for this formidable tumor. More tailored, individualized surgical strategies based on tumor growth patterns are mandatory to provide long-term tumor control and to minimize damage to hypothalamic structures. Differences in the distribution of growth patterns between children and adults imply that hierarchical comparison is necessary when investigating outcomes and survival across treatment paradigms in patients with CP.