It’s rough being a 4-month old infant with a brain tumor. It’s even rougher when that brain tumor turns out to be an extremely rare one…and contains a tooth! And by tooth we mean several fully formed teeth. You heard correct: teeth found in brain tumor. Not to worry though. Doctors operated on the boy and removed the tumor. He’s now doing fine, but the experience did provide fascinating information on the nature of these rare tumors.
Doctors became concerned when they noticed the boy’s head was growing faster than usual for a child his age. A subsequent brain scan showed a tumor. The odd thing about the tumor was that it seemed to have structures that appeared very reminiscent of teeth usually found on the mandible. In the surgery that followed, doctors confirmed that those structures were in fact fully formed teeth. They removed it successfully, but doctors were still perplexed and fascinated by what they had seen.
When operating, doctors naturally took samples of the tumor tissue. They analyzed the tissue later, determining that the child was suffering from craniopharyngioma. Tumors of this type can grow to be the size of a golf ball and generally occur in children or adults in their 50s and 60s. One of the good things about this type of tumor is that it’s not malignant—it doesn’t spread like a cancerous one. But why the teeth?
Craniopharyngioma derives its cells from pituitary gland tissue. These cells contribute to the formation of teeth, which is why when these rare tumors are scanned often calcium deposits are found. Doctors had for some time suspected that these tumors form from the same cells involved in making teeth, but until now, doctors had never seen actual fully formed teeth in these tumors. This case confirms previous suspicions about cranipharyngioma, but this type of tumor is not the only one that can spawn teeth. Doctors have encountered teeth in brain tumors before, but they were tumors called teratomas. These tumors are unique because they contain all 3 types of embryonic tissue: mesoderm, endoderm and ectoderm.
The boy is recovering fine. Unfortunately, because craniopharyngioma is a tumor of the pituitary gland—the gland that secretes hormones that maintain homeostasis—there is often hormonal damage. In this case, the boy’s craniopharyngioma destroyed normal connective tissue that enabled the secretion of hormones to work properly. As a result, the boy will have to undergo hormone therapy for the rest of his life. The most important outcome, though, is that the boy survived. Without modern surgical methods, he wouldn’t have stood a chance. And the teeth are being kept and analyzed by top men…top men.