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About Clival Tumors

Clival tumors are growths on the clivus, a portion of bone at the base of the skull. When clival tumors grow, they may invade and damage important nearby structures: cranial nerves, the internal carotid arteries and the brainstem, for example. The most common surgical treatments for tumors of the clivus are craniotomy and transsphenoidal surgery. At Columbia’s Skull Base Tumor Center, our neurosurgeons specialize in providing care for patients with clival tumors.

Two types of tumors grow in the clivus: chordomas and chondrosarcomas.

Chordomas are rare, benign tumors that arise from cells that were once part of an embryonic structure called a notochord. Normally, notochord remnants form part of the intervertebral discs. A chordoma occurs when additional notochord cells are enclosed by the developing bones.

Chordomas in the skull have a slow-growing nature and are typically benign. Despite their mild behavior, however, they can still cause significant damage by invading nearby structures. Chordomas tend to recur after treatment.

(Chordomas can also occur in the spine; for information on those, please click here.)

The second type of clival tumor, chondrosarcoma, is even rarer. Chondrosarcomas are slow-growing tumors that arise in cartilage. (During development, the cartilage in the skull eventually hardens and is replaced by bone.) Although chondrosarcomas are malignant, they rarely spread to other areas. Like chordomas, chondrosarcomas tend both to invade nearby structures and to recur after treatment.

Chondrosarcomas can also occur in the spine; for information on those, please click here.

patient journey

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