Primary Skull Base Lymphoma: Manifestations and Clinical Outcomes of a Great Imitator

John P. Marinelli, Mara C. Modzeski, John I. Lane, Jamie J. Van Gompel, Janalee K. Stokken, Gita Thanarajasingam, Matthew L. Carlson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Objectives: Primary skull base lymphoma (PSBL) represents a rare manifestation of extranodal lymphoma. Presenting with nonspecific symptomatology and imaging findings, PSBL often masquerades as more common cranial base pathology and thus can present a diagnostic challenge. The objectives of this study were to characterize the manifestations and clinical outcomes of PSBL. Study Design: Case series and chart review. Setting: Tertiary referral center. Subjects and Methods: Review of 48 patients with PSBL treated between 1994 and 2016. Results: The median age at diagnosis was 60 years. Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma comprised the most common subtype (56%). Presenting symptoms included diplopia (52%), trigeminal hypesthesia (38%), headache (29%), facial nerve weakness (25%), B-symptoms (fevers, night sweats, and/or weight loss) (25%), and hearing loss (21%). Discrete lesions commonly mimicked meningioma, schwannoma, and nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Diffuse lesions imitated neurosarcoidosis, granulomatosis with polyangiitis, and carcinomatosis meningitis. Only 26% of all initial clinical evaluations suspected lymphoma. The combination of restricted diffusion on diffusion-weighted imaging, an absence of flow voids or surrounding hyperostosis, bony erosion and/or marrow signal replacement, and heterogeneous contrast enhancement facilitated delineation between PSBL and common skull base pathology. Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis was diagnostic of lymphoma in 24% of cases. Lymphoma within CSF portended significantly worse overall survival (85% vs 18% at 3-years; P <.001). Conclusion: A history significant for multiple cranial nerve palsies, B-symptoms, and imaging findings inconsistent with common skull base pathology should raise suspicion for PSBL. CSF analysis in the setting of PSBL can provide diagnostic and prognostic value for patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)643-649
Number of pages7
JournalOtolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery (United States)
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2018


  • cranial base
  • diffuse large B-cell lymphoma
  • esthesioneuroblastoma
  • lymphoma
  • meningioma
  • nasopharyngeal carcinoma
  • neurosarcoidosis
  • schwannoma
  • skull base
  • survival

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Otorhinolaryngology


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