Benign brain tumours can behave like a cancer

Craniopharyngioma is an uncommon benign brain tumour that has a "high propensity to recur", said Dr David Low, a paediatric neurosurgeon at KK Women's and Children's Hospital.

Out of the 30 to 40 new cases of brain tumours here every year, one or two are craniopharyngioma cases.

The tumour is wedged between the pituitary gland and hypothalamus, and any damage to either part of the brain could result in "fairly devastating side effects", said Dr Low, who is also vice-president of the Brain Tumour Society (Singapore).

Dr Matthew Tung from Pacific Neurosurgery explained that the pituitary gland is responsible for orchestrating hormonal changes in the body. This includes menstruation, sex drive, skin pigmentation and reaction to stress.

"If the pituitary gland is damaged, the patient may have to replace the hormones artificially. It is never as good as the body's ability to control the hormones naturally," he said.


The hypothalamus is important for emotions, motivation, sexuality, consciousness and temperature regulation, Dr Tung said.

"If we damage our hypothalamus, we lose the body's natural mechanism to adjust the body temperature to the surroundings.

"It is also important for growth and appetite in children. It can go either way - an excessive or negative appetite. The effects are unpredictable."

When a brain tumour is benign, it does not mean that it can be left alone, Dr Ivan Ng, a consultant neurosurgeon at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, said.

He explained: "Only cancers kill, but brain tumours are unique in the sense that even though they may be benign, they behave like a cancer - they kill if you don't do anything about them."

Even if the benign tumour is left alone and does not spread, the patient is at risk of losing his vision and hormonal control, he added.

Dr Low advised parents to seek medical advice if symptoms persist, but cautioned against paranoia.

Symptoms can include frequent headaches, nausea or vomiting, behavioural changes and vision problems.