Skull cancer can occur in the bones of the skull or the skull base. Survival rates vary depending on the type of skull cancer.
There are many types of skull cancers and tumors. Some tumors found in the bone of the skull are benign. Others are cancerous, meaning they’ll grow faster and spread to other parts of the body if treatment doesn’t occur.
Skull cancer can exist in either the bones of the skull or the base of the skull. While skull-base tumors can involve the brain and affect its function, they’re not typically considered brain tumors. And since they can develop in non-bone tissue, they’re not necessarily a type of bone cancer either — although they certainly can be.
Many skull cancers are treatable, and life expectancy generally improves the earlier your cancer is detected.
Bones are composed of various types of cells, including osteoblasts (cells that form bone), osteoclasts (cells that break down bone), and chondrocytes (cells that form cartilage), among others.
Bone cancers can arise from any of these cell types, and they can occur in any bone in the body, including the bones of the skull and the skull base. Bone cancers in the skull can either be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
A benign tumor is typically slow-growing, well-defined, and not likely to spread to other parts of the body. In contrast, a malignant tumor tends to grow rapidly and spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or lymphatic system.
Types of bone cancer in the skull
- Ewing’s sarcoma: This is a rare type of bone cancer that usually affects children and young adults. It arises from primitive nerve tissue in the bone and can occur in any bone, including those of the skull base.
- Osteosarcoma: This is a type of bone cancer that develops from osteoblasts, which are the cells that form new bone tissue. Osteosarcoma can occur in any bone in the body, including the skull.
- Chondrosarcoma: This type of bone cancer arises from cartilage-forming cells and is the second most common primary bone cancer. Chondrosarcoma can also occur in the skull base bones.
- Chordoma: This is a type of bone cancer that can occur anywhere along the length of the spine, from the base of the skull to the lower back.
- Fibrosarcoma: This is a rare type of bone cancer that arises from fibrous tissue. It can occur in any bone, including those of the skull base.
- Giant cell tumor of bone: This is a benign tumor that can occur in any bone, including the bones of the skull base. While it’s usually not cancerous, it can be locally aggressive and cause bone destruction.
- Osteoma: This is a benign tumor that arises from bone-forming cells and can occur in any bone, including those of the skull base.
What are the symptoms of bone cancer in the skull?
The symptoms of bone cancer in the skull can vary depending on the location, size, and type of tumor. Some possible symptoms of bone cancer in the skull may include:
- numbness or weakness
- vision or hearing changes
- nausea and vomiting
- cognitive changes
- facial paralysis
Skull base tumors are a type of tumor that develops in the skull base, which is the bottom or “base” of the skull that supports the brain and other structures of the head and neck.
These tumors can arise from various tissues surrounding the brain, like bone, cartilage, nerves, blood vessels, or connective tissue.
Skull base tumors can be either benign or malignant. Skull base tumors can originate in the skull base (as a primary tumor) or begin somewhere else in the body and spread to the skull base.
Types of skull base tumors
Skull base tumors may include the following:
- Acoustic neuromas: These are benign tumors that grow on the eighth cranial nerve, which is responsible for hearing and balance.
- Craniopharyngiomas: These tumors develop on the pituitary stalk at the center of the base of the skull and may involve critical structures like the brain’s hypothalamus, visual pathways, and deep brain vessels.
- Epidermoid tumor: This is a type of benign tumor that develops from cells that are typically found on the skin’s surface or in the skin’s outermost layer (epidermis).
- Meningiomas: A meningioma of the skull base is typically a benign and slow-growing tumor that develops in the covering of the base of the brain.
- Olfactory neuroblastoma (esthesioneuroblastoma): This is a rare type of cancer that typically develops on the roof of the nasal cavity and affects your sense of smell.
- Paranasal sinus cancers: This is a rare type of cancer that affects the paranasal sinuses, which are small, air-filled spaces located in the bones around the nose and eyes.
- Pituitary adenomas: These develop within the pituitary gland, located at the center of the skull base, between a deep air sinus cavity and the intracranial space (where the brain sits).
- Rathke’s cleft cysts: These are benign, fluid-filled growths (cysts) that develop between the parts of the pituitary gland at the base of the brain.
In general, some types of skull cancer can be cured, while others may be more difficult to treat. If the cancer is detected early and hasn’t spread to other parts of the body, the chances of remission are generally higher.
Treatment for skull cancer may involve a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and other targeted therapies.
What is the survival rate of skull cancer?
Survival rates vary depending on the type and stage of the tumor, but early detection and treatment can significantly improve outcomes.
As an example, here are the survival rates of certain types of skull base cancer.
- Chordoma: Research from 2020 shows that the overall 5-year survival rate for chordoma is 65%.
- Chondrosarcoma: According to 2020 research, the 5-year survival rate for chondrosarcoma is 89.10%. Lower survival rates are seen in males, African Americans, and those with the mesenchymal subtype (a variant that’s typically aggressive with a potential to metastasize.)
- Ewing sarcoma:
Research from 2019found that the 5-year survival rate of Ewing sarcoma is 68.5%.
2019 researchshows that the 5-year survival rate of osteosarcoma is 51%.
The life expectancy of a person with skull cancer depends on various factors, including:
- cancer type
- cancer stage
- cancer location
- person’s age
- person’s overall health
- effectiveness of the treatment
It’s important to discuss your prognosis with your healthcare team to get a better understanding of your specific situation.
Numerous types of cancer can develop in the skull or skull base. These tumors can arise from various tissues like bone, nerves, cartilage, blood vessels, or connective tissue. Many of these tumors are benign, but some are malignant.
It’s important to note that each case of skull cancer is unique, and the treatment and prognosis will depend on individual factors. Working closely with your healthcare team to develop an individualized treatment plan and discuss the potential outcomes is essential.