VIRGINIA, March 1, 2014 — The New England Journal of Medicine reports that after doctors ordered an MRI to understand the reason an unidentified four month old infant’s head was rapidly outgrowing its body and extremities, they found a brain tumor with what appeared to be human teeth embedded in it.
The tumor, called a craniopharngioma is “unheard of” according to Dr. Narlin Beaty, a neurosurgeon at the University of Maryland Medical Center who performed the surgery along with Dr. Edward Ahn of Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.
This type of tumor is benign but can grow to the size of a golf ball and contain calcium deposits. However, this is the first time in recorded history that not only were human teeth found in the tumor, but also that the teeth were fully grown adult teeth.
Teeth have been found in tumors before, but never in this type of tumor. The tumors that have contained teeth are called teratomas.
Teratomas are unique in that they contain the three types of tissue found in human embryos. In contrast, a craniopharyngioma only has one type of tissue, making this infant a medical rarity.
Craniopharyngioma’s are generally found in children ages 5-14 so the four-month old infant’s tumor suggests the tumor developed form cells that make teeth.
The infant is recovering well but this type of tumor is of the pituitary gland and may cause abnormal hormonal growth and related problems. Additionally, the tumor destroyed the normal connections disallowing the brain to release certain hormones and hormone treatments will be mandatory for life.
Beaty told the New England Journal that only a few years ago, the infant would not have survived.
Paul Mountjoy is a Virginia based psychotherapist