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A schwannoma tumor is a type of brain tumor that is often noncancerous. The most common type of schwannoma is known as vestibular schwannoma or acoustic neuroma, and it occurs when a tumor grows on a nerve that connects your inner ear and brainstem. If you have a diagnosis of a schwannoma tumor, here’s what you need to know and how our team can help guide your treatment. 

What is a schwannoma tumor?

Schwannoma is a rare type of tumor that develops in the Schwann cells of your nervous system. These cells create an insulating sheath around your nerves. While these tumors can grow in your arms or legs as well as along your spinal cord, they are most commonly found around the head and neck area. Only about 5% of cases become cancerous (malignant) soft tissue sarcoma. However, while they are usually benign and slow growing, they can cause serious problems if left untreated. 

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Who is affected by schwannoma?

Schwannomas are rare, with less than 200,000 people diagnosed in the U.S. per year, and they generally affect adults between 50-60 years old. Approximately 90% of people with schwannomas only have one tumor; however, it is possible to have more. 

Symptoms of schwannoma

Because schwannomas grow slowly, they may exist for months or even years without causing symptoms. Symptoms will vary greatly depending on where the schwannoma tumor is located but could include:

  • Visible lump under the skin
  • Muscle weakness
  • Pins and needles sensation
  • Sharp or burning pain

Vestibular schwannoma symptoms may include:

  • Hearing loss
  • Balance difficulty
  • Ringing in ear
  • Facial numbness

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, see your doctor as soon as possible

Diagnosing a schwannoma

If you experience symptoms that may indicate a schwannoma, a doctor will typically perform a physical exam. You may also undergo imaging tests, such as computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies, or ultrasounds. These tests can help the doctor identify potential tumors and determine their size and location. The results will also help your doctor assess any other neurological problems that may be present. In some cases, a biopsy may also be ordered to confirm a proper diagnosis.  

Causes of schwannoma

The exact cause of schwannoma is unknown, and the underlying cause may be genetic or environmental, but most schwannoma cases occur randomly. It is believed that genetic disorders such as schwannomatosis or neurofibromatosis type 2 can cause schwannomas. Additionally, some people are born with a mutation in the NF2 gene, which increases their risk of developing schwannomas.  

It is also believed that exposure to radiation, such as undergoing radiation therapy, may be a contributing factor.   

Treatment for schwannoma

Treatment for a schwannoma depends on the size and location of the tumor, as well as its impact on nearby structures. At the Advanced Neurosciences Center, we use innovative technology and techniques, and determine the best treatment plan based on your individual circumstance. You may undergo one or more of these treatment options.  

If your tumor is benign, small, and you’re not experiencing any disruptive symptoms, your doctor may recommend just monitoring the tumor. You will need regular check-ups and follow-up imaging to ensure that the tumor is not changing or progressing. 

If your tumor is larger or causing other problems, surgical removal is typically the best option. During surgery, the tumor and some of the surrounding tissues are removed, hopefully relieving any symptoms caused by its presence. While a complete removal is the end goal, in certain circumstances, only a portion may be removed. The Advanced Neurosciences Center offers leading-edge and minimally invasive surgical procedures.

The surgery usually can be done without nerve damage; however, if you have a vestibular schwannoma, you may have some hearing loss. 

This form of radiation therapy helps to shrink the tumor and reduce any symptoms. Your doctor may recommend this if your tumor is near ultra-fragile or sensitive parts of the brain.  

These are only used to treat those rare schwannomas that are malignant.   

What to do after a schwannoma diagnosis

At the Advanced Neurosciences Center, we understand that each patient is unique and requires specialized care. Our team of experts will work with you to create a customized treatment plan with you at the center that is tailored to your specific situation. If you need to determine next steps after a diagnosis or want a second opinion based on your test results, we can help. From diagnosis to treatment and beyond, we’ve got you.  

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