Definition A hypothalamic tumour is a growth that develops inside or on top of the hypothalamus in the brain.
What is going on in the body? The hypothalamus, which lies between the thalamus and the pituitary gland, is one of the most important areas of the brain. It controls such functions as body temperature and co-ordination of the nervous and hormone systems. Most of the tumours of the hypothalamus occur in children and cause symptoms by 3 years of age. Abnormal pituitary gland secretions associated with tumours of this region can cause puberty before the age of 8 years.
What are the signs and symptoms of the condition? Hypothalamic tumours produce a wide variety of symptoms that may be difficult to evaluate in children who are too young to speak. A hypothalamic tumour is suspected if a child shows signs of:
What are the causes and risks of the condition? Approximately 20% of people with neurofibromatosis, an inherited disorder involving the growth of fibrous swellings on the nerves, will develop a hypothalamic tumour. Other cases occur for unknown reasons.
What can be done to prevent the condition? There is no known way to prevent hypothalamic tumours.
What are the long-term effects of the condition? An untreated hypothalamic tumours can eventually lead to blindness, weight loss, and death.
What are the risks to others? There are no risks to others, as the condition is not contagious.
What are the treatments for the condition? Surgery to remove the tumour offers the only hope for a cure. Because of the size and location of hypothalamic tumours, many of them cannot be completely removed. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy can also be used to shrink the tumour.
What are the side effects of the treatments? Treatment, even if successful, may not correct a vision loss. Some hormonal abnormalities may require replacement therapy.
What happens after treatment for the condition? Long-term survival is good if the tumour is successfully removed. Untreated cases have a mean survival time of 12 months after diagnosis.
How is the condition monitored? Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the doctor.
Author: James Warson, MD Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel Editor: Dr John Hearne Last Updated: 26/10/2004 Contributors Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request
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