Jugular fossa masses

Last revised by Dr Daniel J Bell on 29 Jan 2020

Jugular fossa masses comprise a range of pathological lesions that arise from or extend into the jugular fossa in the skull base. Although not a common location for tumors it is not unusual for jugular fossa lesions to be discovered incidentally on cross-sectional imaging.

Although the jugular foramen is technically an anatomically distinct entity which connects the jugular fossa to the posterior fossa, both contain the same neurovascular structures and lesions present similarly. As the differential for lesions arising here are the same, for the purposes of this article the terms jugular fossa and jugular foramen will be used interchangeably.

Although the exact underlying pathology varies most jugular fossa tumors are slow growing and can cause symptoms by compressing the nerves that lie within the fossa. Symptoms can include:

When there is unilateral palsy of the 9th-11th cranial nerves this is termed as jugular foramen syndrome

However, the most common symptoms tend to arise from expansion into the middle ear:

Involvement of the inner ear can lead to vertigo and sensorineural hearing loss.

Symptoms of raised intracranial compression can develop if there is significant intracranial extension of the underlying tumor. 

The most common lesion seen involving the jugular fossa is a glomus jugulare paraganglioma followed by schwannomas and meningiomas.2

Jugular fossa masses can broadly be classified as extrinsic or intrinsic. 

Occasionally, pseudotumors can arise as a result of:

Intrinsic masses arise from the structures that traverse the jugular fossa:

Extrinsic masses arise from the surrounding tissues around the jugular fossa and extend into it:

While contrast MRI is better at defining the nature of jugular fossa lesions, CT is superior in assessing if there is any involvement of the adjacent bony structures.

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