Neurology India
menu-bar5 Open access journal indexed with Index Medicus
  Users online: 5727  
 Home | Login 
About Editorial board Articlesmenu-bullet NSI Publicationsmenu-bullet Search Instructions Online Submission Subscribe Videos Etcetera Contact
  Navigate Here 
 Resource Links
  »  Similar in PUBMED
 »  Search Pubmed for
 »  Search in Google Scholar for
  »  Article in PDF (1,133 KB)
  »  Citation Manager
  »  Access Statistics
  »  Reader Comments
  »  Email Alert *
  »  Add to My List *
* Registration required (free)  

  In this Article
 »  References
 »  Article Figures

 Article Access Statistics
    PDF Downloaded55    
    Comments [Add]    
    Cited by others 2    

Recommend this journal


Table of Contents    
Year : 2017  |  Volume : 65  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 418-420

Craniopharyngioma with malignant transformation: Review of literature

1 Department of Histopathology, Apollo Cancer Institutes, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
2 Department of Radiology, Apollo Cancer Institutes, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
3 Department of Neurosurgery, Apollo Cancer Institutes, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

Date of Web Publication10-Mar-2017

Correspondence Address:
Dr. S Narla
Department of Histopathology, Apollo Cancer Institutes, Chennai - 600 035, Tamil Nadu
Login to access the Email id

Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/neuroindia.NI_528_16

Rights and Permissions

How to cite this article:
Narla S, Govindraj J, Chandrasekar K, Sushama P. Craniopharyngioma with malignant transformation: Review of literature. Neurol India 2017;65:418-20

How to cite this URL:
Narla S, Govindraj J, Chandrasekar K, Sushama P. Craniopharyngioma with malignant transformation: Review of literature. Neurol India [serial online] 2017 [cited 2023 Mar 21];65:418-20. Available from: https://www.neurologyindia.com/text.asp?2017/65/2/418/201861


Craniopharyngioma is a relatively rare non-malignant non-glial intracranial tumor. From a histopathological perspective, these tumors are categorized into two variants – the adamantinomatous and the papillary varieties. The adamantinomatous type is the most common subtype affecting individuals in the first two decades of life, while the papillary craniopharyngioma is reported predominantly in adults.[1] While the former represents the squamous cell rests of the embryonic craniopharyngeal duct, the latter subtype is the result of metaplastic adenohypophyseal cells.[2] Craniopharyngioma represents 1.2–4% of all childhood intracranial tumors.[3] Malignant transformation in a craniopharyngioma is extremely rare.[4] Malignant craniopharyngioma may be of primary (that is developed de novo) or of secondary type (due to malignant transformation of a craniopharyngioma).[4] It has been suggested that radiation therapy could be the inducing factor.

We report the case of a 28-year-old female patient who was admitted due to progressive bilateral visual disturbance and anosmia. There were no neurological deficits on examination. The patient had undergone two attempts at transcranial excision of a suprasellar craniopharyngioma at 7 and 14 years of age, respectively, and a single fraction of gamma knife radiation at 14 years of age (at another center). She was on hormonal supplementation therapy since the time of the previous treatment as a result of pituitary hypofunction. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain [Figure 1] showed a peripherally enhancing solid lesion in the suprasellar and parasellar regions, encasing the optic nerves as well as the optic chiasma. There was obstructive hydrocephalus due to compression of the third ventricle. The patient was taken up for surgery and a near-total excision of the tumor was achieved, considering that the tumor was close to the optic nerves. Microscopic examination of the surgical specimen showed a highly cellular neoplasm composed of multilayered, markedly atypical squamous cells with disruption of the basement membrane [Figure 2]. The cells showed an abundant eosinophilic cytoplasm, pleomorphic nuclei, and prominent nucleoli. Abundant mitotic figures and foci of necrosis were also present. The tumor showed areas of keratinization with abundant keratin admixed tumor lobules, some of which had an appearance of “wet keratin.” Immunohistochemical staining [Figure 2] showed a strong nuclear positivity for beta-catenin and p63 with strong membranous positivity for cytokeratin (CK) 5/6. Ki67 index was found to be 30–40%. The nuclear staining for beta-catenin in the context of clinical history supported a diagnosis of squamous cell carcinoma arising in an adamantinomatous craniopharyngioma. Postoperative positron emission tomography-computed tomography (PET-CT) scan showed an increased isotope uptake in the hypermetabolic areas of the residual tumor in the left parasellar region, without any evidence of metastasis elsewhere in the body. Stereotactic radiotherapy using cyberknife was delivered to the residual tumor in a dose of 45Gy. Later, the patient was lost to follow up.
Figure 1: Postcontrast axial (a) and sagittal sections (b) of the cranial MRI showing a peripherally enhancing solid lesion in the suprasellar and parasellar regions, involving the optic nerves and chiasma with obstructive hydrocephalus

Click here to view
Figure 2: Nests of atypical squamous cells (a, hematoxylin and eosin ×100). Abundant wet keratin closely admixed with the tumor cells (b, hematoxylin and eosin ×100). Tumor cells staining positive for p63 (c, immunohistochemistry ×100), Ki 67 proliferation index 30–40% (d, immunohistochemistry ×100)

Click here to view

Craniopharyngioma is a benign neoplasm affecting the sellar/suprasellar area. The patients usually present with visual and endocrine dysfunction. Their incidence has a bimodal distribution with peaks observed at 5–14 years, and again between 40–60 years of age. In childhood and adolescence, the adamantinomatous type with cyst formation is common whereas the squamous–papillary histologic type is more prevalent in adults. The pathogenesis of craniopharyngioma is poorly understood. To date, mutations in the beta-catenin gene have been reported in 77% of the craniopharyngiomas, exclusively of the adamantinomatous subtype.[5] Beta-catenin is a key mediator of the WNT (Wingless integrated) signalling pathway, which is involved in the control of cell proliferation, differentiation, and migration.[6] Despite being a WHO Grade I tumor, these tumors are difficult to completely resect, necessitating repeat surgeries or adjuvant radiation in many of them. Malignant transformation in a craniopharyngioma is an extremely uncommon phenomenon. The mechanisms for development of these so called “malignant or anaplastic craniopharyngiomas” is currently unknown. Nelson et al.,[7] showed a causal relationship between radiation therapy and malignant transformation in craniopharyngiomas. Animal research and in-vitro analysis of human tumors in general have demonstrated that the development of delayed p53 mutations following radiation may be one step in the process of development of radiation-induced neoplasms.[8]

In the review of the literature, the patients with malignant craniopharyngiomas have ranged from 10 to 63 years of age (average: 28.4 years) without any specific gender predilection.[9] The time interval from the detection of the primary tumor to the malignant transformation has ranged from 1.2 to 35 years (average: 9.7 years). In the present case, the patient received radiotherapy at 14 years of age. Therefore, our patient developed malignant transformation after 14 years of the possible triggering event. The different malignant morphologies reported so far include squamous cell carcinoma, odontogenic ghost cell carcinoma, low-grade myoepithelial carcinoma, ameloblastic carcinoma, and undifferentiated carcinoma. All these differential diagnoses were excluded in our case based on the morphology and immunohistochemistry findings. Although no definite diagnostic criteria for malignant craniopharyngioma have been established yet, three of the following five features have been identified in previously reported cases:[9]

  1. Hypercellularity and increased nuclear–cytoplasmic ratio
  2. Coagulative necrosis
  3. Increased proliferative index or mitotic activity
  4. Nuclear pleomorphism and hyperchromatic nuclei
  5. Other features such as disruption of the basement membrane, a solid growth pattern, infiltrative growth, etc.

As the present case had a high proliferative index, an infiltrative growth pattern, disruption of the basement membrane, and hypercellularity, it was diagnosed as being malignant transformation of a craniopharyngioma. Prognosis in the case of malignant craniopharyngioma remains very poor. Although surgical resection, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy have been used in the previously reported cases, none of these have resulted in a meaningful long-term survival. Therefore, the ideal management of malignant craniopharyngiomas remains unclear.

To conclude, although malignant transformation in a craniopharyngioma is uncommon, awareness of its occurrence is important. Focal invasion, especially in an adamantinomatous craniopharyngioma, is characteristic and is not regarded as a sign of malignancy.[10] However, dysplastic histopathological changes in a surgical specimen of craniopharyngioma, particularly in the background of previous radiotherapy, should be critically examined for signs of malignancy.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

 » References Top

Adamson TE, Wiestler OD, Kleihues P, Yasargil MG. Correlation of clinical and pathological features in surgically treated craniopharyngiomas. J Neurosurg 1990;73:12-7.  Back to cited text no. 1
Asa SL, Kovacs K, Bilbao JM. The pars tuberalis of the human pituitary. A histologic, immunohistochemical, ultrastructural and immunoelectron microscopic analysis. Virchows Arch A Pathol Anat Histopathol 1983;399:49-59.  Back to cited text no. 2
Bunin GR, Surawicz TS, Witman PA, Preston-Martin S, Davis F, Bruner JM. The descriptive epidemiology of craniopharyngioma. J Neurosurg 1998;89:547-51.  Back to cited text no. 3
Rodriguez FJ, Scheithauer BW, Tsunoda S, Kovacs K, Vidal S, Piepgras DG. The spectrum of malignancy in craniopharyngioma. Am J Surg Pathol 2007;131:1020-8.  Back to cited text no. 4
Sekine S, Shibata T, Kokubu A, Morishita Y, Noguchi M, Nakanishi Y, et al. Craniopharyngiomas of adamantinomatous type harbor beta catenin gene mutations. Am J Pathol 2002;161:1997-2001.  Back to cited text no. 5
Gooding JM, Yap KL, Ikura M. The cadherin-catenin complex as a focal point of cell adhesion and signalling: New insights from three-dimensional structures. Bioessays 2004;26:497-511.  Back to cited text no. 6
Nelson GA, Bastian FO, Schlitt M, White RL. Malignant transformation in craniopharyngioma. Neurosurgery 1988;22:427-9.  Back to cited text no. 7
Kristopaitis T, Thomas C, Petruzzelli GJ, Lee JM. Malignant craniopharyngioma. Arch Pathol Lab Med 2000;124:1356-60.  Back to cited text no. 8
Wang W, Chen XD, Bai HM, Liao QL, Dai XJ, Peng DY, et al. Malignant transformation of craniopharyngioma with detailed follow-up. Neuropathology 2015;35:50-5.  Back to cited text no. 9
Thapar K, Kovacs K. Neoplasms of the sellar region. In: Bigner DD, Mc-Lendon RE, Bruner J, editors. Russel and Rubinstein's Pathology of Tumors of the Nervous System. New York, NY: Oxford University Press; 1998. p. 561-80.  Back to cited text no. 10


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2]

This article has been cited by
1 The effect of radiation therapy and chemotherapy on malignant craniopharyngioma: A review
Turki Elarjani, Meshari Rashed Alhuthayl, Hindi Alhindi, Imad N Kanaan
Surgical Neurology International. 2021; 12: 539
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
2 Craniopharyngioma with malignant transformation: A case report
Janssens E, Verhelst PJ, De Vleeschouwer S, Van Calenbergh F, Hauben E, Politis C, Bila M
Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Cases. 2020; 6(3): 100171
[Pubmed] | [DOI]


Print this article  Email this article
Online since 20th March '04
Published by Wolters Kluwer - Medknow