Thrive by IU Health

February 28, 2022

Giving skull base tumor patients more than survival

IU Health University Hospital

Giving skull base tumor patients more than survival

Not so long ago, the primary goal in removing a skull base tumor was simply saving a patient’s life. The common side-effects of a successful surgery—loss of facial-muscle control, for example, or loss of hearing—were considered unfortunate but virtually unavoidable.

In recent years though, a team at Indiana University Health has joined a select few that have allowed patients to emerge from skull base tumor surgery without a sagging face, silenced world or other challenging outcomes. And they believe their team can become a national leader in this endeavor, attracting patients from far and wide.

Skull base tumors are growths that can form along the base of the skull or directly below the skull base in areas such as the sinuses. Many are benign (noncancerous) and grow slowly over time. In rare cases, a skull base tumor can be cancerous, which means that it is able to spread to other parts of the body.

Rick Nelson, MD, PhD, IU Health surgeon

“The challenge in dealing with a skull base tumor is its proximity to cranial nerves that control critical functions ranging from facial control to hearing, and from voice box use to eye movement,” said Rick Nelson, MD, PhD, an IU Health surgeon specializing in skull base tumor surgery.

Fortunately, IU Health has assembled a team of surgeons who have expertise in operating around those nerves and extracting tumors successfully.

But it isn’t just those surgeons who make IU Health such a skull base tumor success story, adds IU Health Neurological Surgeon and IU Health Foundation Board Member Mitesh V. Shah, MD. It’s also the additional assets IU Health can bring to each case: high-tech facilities and equipment, specialists who can assess a patient and prepare them for surgery, rehabilitation and recovery personnel, a dedicated nursing staff and more.

“Not every hospital in the state or in the region has the manpower or the physical plant expertise to take care of these very complex tumors,” Dr. Shah said. “A small hospital might be able to do technically excellent surgery, but not provide the full range of support.”

Mitesh V. Shah, MD, IU Health neurological surgeon and IU Health Foundation board member

Add to these assets the research opportunities available through the IU School of Medicine, and you have an organization that is uniquely situated to take a lead in skull base tumor surgery, said Dr. Shah and Dr. Nelson. Already, the IU Health team has gathered a large collection of tissue samples from tumor surgeries, a collection that they believe could provide key insights into the tumors and the ways they grow.

With all this potential in mind, the IU Health team has cast a vision of a center of excellence that would not only provide top-level care to patients but would also lead the way on skull base tumor research—perhaps taking us to a day when we can arrive at yet another, even higher definition of success.

If you would like to support the IU Health skull base tumor team in its pursuit of excellence, contact IU Health Foundation Development Officer Jeffrey Roth at 317.963.9031 or

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