Our Treatment Approach
The specialists at MD Anderson take a team approach to skull base tumors, bringing together extraordinary expertise from neurosurgery, head and neck surgery, plastic surgery, medical, and radiation oncology, and many other areas. We personalize your treatment to deliver the most advanced care with the least impact on your body.
Skull base tumor patients benefit from the most advanced technology and treatments, many available at only a few locations in the country. Your recommended therapy may include:
- Minimally invasive surgery
- Proton therapy
- Innovative radiotherapy delivery techniques
- Advanced reconstruction surgeries
- Chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy
And we’re constantly researching newer, safer, more-advanced treatments for skull base tumors. This means we are able to offer a range of clinical trials for new treatments.
Our Skull Base Tumor Treatments
If you are diagnosed with a skull base tumor, your doctor will discuss the best options to treat it. This depends on:
- The type of tumor
- The location and extent of the tumor
- Possible side effects of treatment
- Your health
Most skull base tumors require surgery. Some can be treated without surgery (for example with radiation or chemotherapy). Others do not need to be treated right away and can be watched closely over time, under the care of an experienced skull base specialist.
Your treatment for a skull base tumor will be customized to your particular needs. It may include one or more of the following.
Like all surgeries, skull base tumor surgery is most successful when it is done by a surgeon with a great deal of experience in the procedure.
MD Anderson’s renowned skull base tumor surgeons work in multi-specialty teams. They perform hundreds of skull base tumor surgeries each year, using the most-advanced techniques.
The main types of skull base tumor surgery are:
Open surgery: Incisions are made in the skin or the membranes of the nose, mouth or throat to expose the bone of the skull base. The incision often can be hidden in the hair, skin creases, nose or mouth.
The affected bone is removed to expose the tumor and to identify the important nerves and blood vessels. After the tumor is removed, the membrane that protects the brain and the surrounding soft tissues is closed to seal off the skull base. Occasionally, when large skull base tumors are treated, plastic surgeons rebuild the soft tissues and bone to optimize function and appearance. When muscles and nerves are affected, highly specialized plastic surgeons may provide facial reanimation and complex craniofacial construction.
Minimally invasive endoscopic surgery: Using no incisions or a few small ones in the skull or back of the sinuses, the surgeon uses an endoscope to biopsy or remove the skull base tumor. This approach may:
- Lessen damage to healthy tissue
- Lessen time in hospital and recovery time
- Reduce complications
Image-guided surgery: CT (computed tomography) or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans are taken before surgery. They then are used in the operating room to help guide the surgeon to the precise location of the tumor. This enhances the accuracy, precision and safety of surgery of the skull base.
Real-time MRI: Provides surgeons with precise, "live" images of the tumor and surrounding areas during surgery. This increases the surgeon’s accuracy and the chance for complete removal of the skull base tumor.
New radiation therapy techniques and remarkable skill allow MD Anderson doctors to target skull base tumors more precisely, delivering the maximum amount of radiation with the least damage to healthy cells. MD Anderson provides unparalleled clinical expertise with the most advanced radiation treatments, including:
Intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT): IMRT uses sophisticated computerized controls and software to deliver radiation beams in different angles to fit the exact shape of the skull base tumor. IMRT technology lowers the radiation dose to the normal tissue surrounding the tumor and lessens the side effect of treatment.
Stereotactic radiosurgery is the focused delivery of large doses of radiation to tumors in one or a few sessions without the need of a scalpel or any incision. This method provides the ability to targets skull base tumors with very high accuracy and precision. One of several radiosurgery techniques available at MD Anderson for skull base tumor treatment include:
- Gamma Knife delivers highly focused beams of radiation to treat small skull base tumors (usually those that are less than 3 centimeters in size). This is possible through the use of a special head frame placed by the Neurosurgeon to provide a stereotactic guidance system to target the tumor with high accuracy and precision. This eliminates unintended radiation dose and harm to the surrounding healthy tissue. Gamma Knife treatments are typically done in one day and do not require an overnight stay in the hospital.
- Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy (SBRT) can treat tumors that are larger than 3 cm or located close to a sensitive structure, using a frameless custom mask, cushion and mouthpiece instead of a head frame. SBRT treatment usually consists of 3 to 6 radiation sessions given every other day and shortens the overall length of treatment from seven weeks to two weeks. Our team of radiation oncologists with expertise in treating skull base tumors will evaluate each case to determine the best radiotherapy approach to use.
Proton therapy delivers high radiation doses directly to the skull base tumor site, while decreasing the risk of damage to nearby healthy tissue. It is especially valuable for some cancers deep in the body (such as skull base tumors) because it is targeted to deposit energy only in the area of the tumor. For these patients, proton therapy can result in better cancer control with less impact on the body.
MD Anderson offers many new and advanced radiotherapy technologies to deliver precision radiation to your specific skull base cancer. Our expert radiation oncologists will evaluate each case to determine the best radiotherapy approach to use. Together, they work closely with our skull base surgeons, neurosurgeons, medical oncologists and other doctors specializing in skull base cancers to coordinate treatment tailored for you.
Repeat radiation to the same area that has already received radiation is very challenging. It is necessary to deliver the radiation precisely and accurately to avoid unwanted reirradiation to the normal tissue. Each reirradiation plan is approached with the utmost care and thought, and each treatment is personalized to your needs. The goal of skull base reirradiation is to provide long-term cancer control but also to preserve quality of life. It is very important that the radiation oncologist and team have experience with reirradiation andof skull base tumors.
MD Anderson is a world leader in head and neck reirradiation. Advanced radiation techniques such as IMRT, proton therapy and stereotactic radiosurgery can be used to reirradiate skull base tumors when surgery is not possible. We also offer clinical trials for patients with unresectable tumors of the skull base who are receiving repeat radiation.
Palliative reirradiation: Stereotactic reirradiation of the skull base can be used to provide symptom relief from facial pain caused by cancer. A recent study performed at MD Anderson showed that Gamma Knife stereotactic radiosurgery reduced facial pain caused by certain skull cancers tumors and lessened the need to use narcotic pain-relievers.
Chemotherapy uses powerful drugs to kill cancer cells that multiply quickly. It may involve a single drug or a combination of two or more drugs, and can be used in combination with other treatments. MD Anderson offers the most up-to-date and advanced chemotherapy options.
Immunotherapy uses the body’s immune system to recognize and eliminate cancer. There are several types of immunotherapies offered at MD Anderson, and a patient's overall health and type of cancer determines the therapies available to them.
Targeted therapy, also called precision medicine, stops or slows the growth or spread of cancer by targeting specific molecules and cancer-causing genes. These therapies are often given along with another treatment like chemotherapy or radiation.
Our Skull Base Tumor Clinical Trials
Because of its status as one of the world’s premier cancer centers, MD Anderson leads numerous innovative clinical trials (research studies) for skull base tumors.
Studies of treatments based on tumor cell type may include laboratory or imaging tests to see if the treatment is working. Other studies track the quality of life of patients and their families. This may help lessen the effect of the tumor and its treatment on patients’ physical, mental and social well-being.
MD Anderson patients have access to clinical trials offering
promising new treatments that cannot be found anywhere else.
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