What Are Craniofacial Tumors?

Tumors are abnormal growths of cells that cause lesions or swelling. They can be malignant, pre-malignant or benign. Malignant and pre-malignant tumors are cancerous, while benign tumors are not.

Tumors that occur in the head often show up as lumps or areas of abnormal growth. In some cases, this can cause the displacement of facial structures. Craniofacial tumors in children are often caused by abnormal behavior in the cells responsible for growth. Some occur in the womb, while others do not appear until a child is older.

What Causes Craniofacial Tumors?

The causes of craniofacial tumors are often unknown. Craniofacial tumors may be present at birth, or develop later in life. There are several different types of common craniofacial tumors in children:

Cystic Hygroma

A cystic hygroma is a lesion that appears as a bulge under the child’s skin that is also referred to as lymphangioma. It isn’t usually painful or even noticeable until resulting swelling pushes against the skin.

Most cystic hygroma tumors are evident at birth or within the first two years of a child’s life. A lymphangioma can also come about as a result of trauma, surgery, inflammation or obstruction of a child’s lymphatic drainage.

Fibrous Dysplasia

Fibrous dysplasia is a benign tumor located on the bone of a child’s face or skull. It is normally present at birth and continues to slowly grow through childhood and adolescence. In less severe cases, fibrous dysplasia may go undetected for some years. In more cases, a bump will become evident that slow grows, displacing the surrounding facial structures.

Dermoid Cysts

A dermoid cyst is a growth made up of a mass of different kinds of skin-related cells. These can include mature hair, teeth and skin tissue. Dermoid cysts are almost always benign.


A hemangioma is the most common type of tumor present in small children. This vascular anomaly can appear at birth or during the first four months of a child’s life. It’s a benign tumor that is comprised of a collection of blood cells that have grown out of control, leaving a raised, red birthmark.


Neurofibromatosis is rarely cancerous and grows around nerve cells, affecting all nearby tissue including skin and bone. It isn’t typically painful, but requires treatment to avoid more serious damage to the tissue and craniofacial structures it is affecting. Although a specific cause is not known, it is possible to inherit a predisposition to this condition.

What Are the Symptoms of Craniofacial Tumors?

The symptoms of craniofacial tumors will depend on the type of tumor present. However, swelling and the displacement of a child’s facial structures are common. Abnormal growths over the eyes or bony nodules you can feel under the skin can also occur due to tumors.

In some cases, such as in hemangiomas and neurofibromatosis, raised areas on the skin that may appear rash-like or welt-like may also occur. Hemangiomas often appear red or pink, while neurofibromatosis can give skin a milky or tan color.

What Are the Treatments for Craniofacial Tumors?

The most typical treatment for craniofacial tumors involves removing the tumor and reconstructing the affected areas of the face or skull.

Complete removal of the tumor along with the affected portion of bone, skin or other tissue is typically the goal in this case. Skin and bone grafts, along with other plastic surgery techniques, can be used to reconstruct the location where the tumor was removed.

For some tumors, such as hemangiomas, treatments using lasers, radiation and drug therapy can also help to reduce the growth of the tumor.