Skull Base Tumors


Dr. Tjoa removes skull base tumors with as little discomfort to the patient as possible.

Located between the ear and jaw, salivary glands are responsible for the secretion of saliva in the mouth. They also support oral health and help with digestion. While considered a rare occurrence, tumors can develop in any of the salivary glands in the mouth, throat, or neck.

  • Abnormal growths primarily affect the parotid, sublingual and submandibular glands, although minor salivary glands may also be affected.
  • The majority of salivary tumors occur in parotid glands on either side of the mouth and in front of both ears.

Common Skull Base Tumors

Benign, slow-growing glomus tumors can develop from around the jugular vein that carries blood between the heart and brain or behind the ear. As glomus tumors spread, other arteries and nerves in the brain may be affected. Patients may also have vocal and swallowing issues. Approximately 90 percent of patients respond well to non-invasive focused radiation treatment for this type of tumor.

The most common type of tumor that forms in the head, meningiomas develop in membranes around the brain and spinal cord. If the growth becomes large enough, nerves and vessels in the adjacent brain may be affected. Often slow-growing, these tumors may not contribute to any significant symptoms. Over time, patients may experience problems with their senses and memory.

Skull base tumors on nerves are called schwannomas. Often benign, these growths may be characterized by muscle weakness, hearing difficulties, and facial paralysis. Common nerves affected include the vestibular nerves connecting the ear and brain, facial nerves, spinal root nerves, and arm or leg nerves.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms resulting from a skull base tumor will depend on the size and location of the growth. Some patients might first notice headaches or dizziness, while others may experience changes in hearing or discomfort that extends to areas around the ears. More alarming symptoms may include:

  • Loss of vision
  • Some degree of hearing loss
  • Issues with cognitive functioning
  • Facial paralysis
  • Muscle weakness

Skull Base Tumor Diagnosis

Patients with any of the above symptoms are typically evaluated based on medical history, specific symptoms reported, and image tests. If hearing, vision, and balance are affected, specialized tests may be performed to rule out conditions other than a tumor than may be causing symptoms.

Surgical and Non-Surgical Treatments

If it’s determined with a biopsy that a tumor in or around the base of the skull is non-cancerous, treatment may only involve observation unless symptoms become noticeable and problematic. With cancerous tumors, patients are often treated with a combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy in an effort to shrink the growth. When surgery becomes necessary, smaller tumors may be treated with endoscopic procedures. More invasive tumors may require more invasive surgery to access the tumor.

Advances in technology have improved the accuracy and reliability of the treatments typically recommended for patients with skull base tumors. Computer-assisted imaging navigation, for instance, allows doctors to preserve sensitive structures around the brain by offering better visibility for the surgeon. The increased use of minimally invasive techniques performed with specialized instruments and smaller incisions has also reduced risks for patients with tumors requiring surgery.