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What Is a Hypothalamic Tumor?

By T. Broderick
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A hypothalamic tumor is a tumor that develops on the hypothalamus, a part of the brain. A tumor can develop on the hypothalamus for two reasons: cancer spreading from somewhere else in the body or mutated brain cells. The latter cause is more prevalent in children. This kind of tumor can have a number of symptoms ranging from feelings of euphoria to blindness. Treatment plans are always individualized depending on the tumor's size and root cause.

The hypothalamus controls many unconscious metabolic processes such as hunger, thirst, blood pressure and body temperature. The hypothalamus also works with the pituitary gland in the release of certain hormones. Initial research published in the late 2000s suggests that the structure of the hypothalamus controls one's sexual orientation. With so many important life functions controlled by the hypothalamus, a hypothalamic tumor is life-threatening no matter the cause.

A hypothalamic tumor can have one of two causes. The first is a mutation in the brain's glial cells, which are cells in the brain that are not neurons. As of 2011, the exact cause of glial cell mutation is still unknown, but most researchers agree that genetics and/or one's external environment play a role. The second cause is when another form of cancer metastasizes and travels to the hypothalamus.

Symptoms are the same no matter the root cause. If the tumor develops during childhood, the child stops growing. In adults, blindness, feelings of euphoria, headaches and hyperactivity are all possible. Seizures can occur in advanced cases. An extended period of any one of these symptoms should prompt one to see a physician.

Diagnosing a hypothalamic tumor begins with vision and blood tests. In the latter, a hormone imbalance can be a sign of cancer. If these tests indicate the presence of cancer, an MRI or CT scan is the next step. A tumor will be visible to physicians and/or technicians interpreting the scan.

Treating a hypothalamic tumor depends on a number of factors, including the tumor's cause, size and exact location. Surgery may be a possibility for some patients. Other patients will undergo a combination of radiation and chemotherapy. Advances in radiation therapy have made it possible for some patients to treat a tumor without damage to surrounding tissue. One's prognosis depends on all of these variables; prognosis is generally less optimistic in adults, as the cancer is more aggressive in older patients.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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