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What Is Chordoma?

Chordoma is a rare cancer that can grow in the spine and in the base of the skull. Chordoma tumors develop from bone and soft tissues; they do not develop from brain cells.

Symptoms of Chordoma

Chordoma tumors often develop slowly, and symptoms may not appear for years. Symptoms vary depending on the location of the tumor. Common signs of chordoma may include:

  • Headache
  • Neck pain
  • Double vision
  • Changes in facial sensation or movement
  • Changes in speech
  • Difficulty swallowing

Causes of Chordoma

There are no known causes of chordoma, however some genetic factors may cause an increased (yet very small) risk.

Diagnosis of Chordoma

Imaging via MRI, CT for further confirmation. Because chordoma can appear similar to other conditions, a second opinion is recommended.

Treatment at Penn

Treatment of chordoma involves our skull base team and includes a pre-op evaluation by Otolaryngology and Neurosurgery. Often consults are needed from Neuro-ophthalmology and the Pituitary Center because of the proximity of these tumors to the eyes and pituitary gland.  Patients are then reviewed in a multi-disciplinary conference consisting of Neurosurgery, Otolaryngology, Neuroradiology and Radiation Oncology. The purpose is to determine the surgical approach, goals of resection, minimizing risk to nerves and major blood vessels and optimizing post op radiation therapy which is most frequently proton therapy. Surgery itself is often a minimally invasive endoscopic approach but with advanced techniques to prevent complications involving spine fluid leaks, nerve injury and others. Continued follow up care, generally with imaging, is needed for years afterwards because of risk of recurrence, both locally as well  as the potential for metastasis.

Learn more about treatment plans for chordoma at the Penn Brain Tumor Center and Abramson Cancer Center

Penn Programs & Services for Chordoma

Brain Tumor Center-Dr. Steven Brem Looking at Brain Tumor Scans
Brain Tumor Center

The Penn Brain Tumor Center represents the forefront of the field of neuro-oncology, where new research discoveries are rapidly translated to innovative care and better treatment options for patients.

Skull Base Surgery

Penn's Center for Cranial Base Surgery diagnoses and treats head and neck tumors as well as other complex skull base disorders.

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