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The skull is composed of bones and cartilage that form the face and the cranium, which surrounds the brain. You can feel the bones of the cranium on top of the skull. The 5 bones that form the bottom, or base, of the cranium also form the eye socket, roof of the nasal cavity, some of the sinuses, and the bones that surround the inner ear. The skull base is a crowded and complicated area with different openings that the spinal cord, many blood vessels, and nerves all pass through.
Skull base surgery may be done to remove both noncancerous and cancerous growths, and abnormalities on the underside of the brain, the skull base, or the top few vertebrae of the spinal column. Because this is such a difficult area to see and reach, skull base surgery may be done by a minimally invasive endoscopic procedure. In this procedure, the surgeon inserts instruments through the natural openings in the skull—the nose or mouth—or by making a small hole just above the eyebrow. This type of surgery requires a team of specialists that may include ENT (ear, nose, and throat) surgeons, maxillofacial surgeons, neurosurgeons, and radiologists.
These are some of the growths and conditions that may be treated by skull base surgery:
Growths caused by infections
Chordomas, a slow-growing bone tumour most often found at the base of the skull
Trigeminal neuralgia, an intense pain on one side of the face
Craniopharyngiomas, growths that occur near the pituitary gland
Skull base surgery can be done in two main ways. Although the preferred method is endoscopic, open surgery is also an option, depending on the type of growth that needs to be removed and its location:
or minimally: invasive skull base surgery. This type of surgery usually does not
require a large incision. A surgeon may make a small opening inside the nose to allow a neurosurgeon
to remove a growth through a thin lighted tube called an endoscope. An MRI is a type of picture
taken of the skull base using magnets and a computer and may be done by a radiology specialist
while the surgical specialists are operating to help them make sure all of the growth has been
Traditional or open skull base surgery: This type of surgery may require incisions in the facial area and in the skull. Parts of bone may need to be removed so that the growth can be reached and removed. An operating room microscope is often used for this type of surgery.
You may have possible symptoms from a growth or abnormality in the skull base area. Symptoms will depend on the size, type and location of the growth or abnormality, and may include:
The diagnosis of growths or abnormalities that may require skull base surgery is based on your symptoms and a physical exam. Because this area can't be seen directly, these exams and imaging studies are important parts of the diagnosis:
Brain imaging studies: Special tests such as MRI
(magnetic resonance imaging), MRA (magnetic resonance angiogram), PET (positron emission tomography)
and CT (computed tomography) scans create pictures of the skull to help your medical team see a growth
Biopsy: A small piece of a growth in the skull base may be taken out and looked at under a microscope. A biopsy may be done using an endoscope placed through the nose and sinuses. Biopsies may also be done by fine need aspiration, or excisional biopsy.
Other tests: Your balance, cranial nerves, muscle activity, vision, and hearing may all be checked. Studies or scans of other areas and systems of the body may also be checked.
In addition to endoscopic and open skull base surgery, these treatments may be needed, depending on the type of growth or abnormality of the skull base:
Chemotherapy: These are drugs used to treat growths caused by cancer.
Radiation therapy : X-ray treatment may be used to control a growth in the skull base that can't be completely.
Gamma knife: This is a special type of radiation therapy that uses precise X-ray beams to target a growth in the skull base.
Proton beam therapy: This is another type of radiation therapy designed to have greater accuracy and dosing for tumors.
Particle therapy: This is the newest form of radiotherapy. It uses high energy particles with fewer side effects.