About Acoustic Neuroma
An acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor that grows from the eighth cranial nerve, the vestibulocochlear nerve, which arises in the brain and is responsible for hearing and balance. These tumors are not cancerous (benign) and do not spread, but they can affect a patient’s day-to-day functions by impacting nearby areas. Many patients require treatment for an acoustic neuroma, such as surgery or stereotactic radiosurgery at a Gamma Knife center. A doctor will create a treatment path based on the patient’s health and condition.
Acoustic Neuroma Development
Acoustic neuromas arise from special cells called Schwann cells, which surround and insulate the vestibulocochlear nerve. They typically grow slowly and do not spread to other areas of the body, but they can lead to symptoms by impinging on the nerve or surrounding tissues. Because they grow slowly, acoustic neuromas are typically diagnosed in patients between 30 and 60 years of age.
Most patients will only have one nerve affected (the cranial nerves are paired, one on each side of the body), but some patients with a rare condition called Neurofibromatosis Type 2 may have tumors on both sides. The cause in most acoustic neuroma cases is unknown and is suspected to have to do with an issue with a gene on chromosome 22.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Acoustic Neuroma
Symptoms are related to the location of the tumor on the vestibulocochlear nerve and include:
- Hearing loss and/or ringing in one ear
- Balance issues and difficulty walking
- Facial numbness and weakness
- Hydrocephalus (a buildup of fluid in the brain)
To confirm the acoustic neuroma diagnosis, a doctor will examine the patient’s ear and give a hearing test and/or use diagnostic imaging techniques (such as computed tomography scans or magnetic resonance imaging).
Treatment of Acoustic Neuroma
The doctor will work with each patient to develop the treatment path that is most appropriate for the individual based on factors such as their symptoms, the tumor’s size and location, and any complicating health conditions they may have. Potential acoustic neuroma treatment options include:
- Stereotactic Radiosurgery: A focused beam of radiation is delivered directly to the tumor, sparing healthy surrounding tissue, using technology such as the Leksell Gamma Knife®Icon™ treatment system in an outpatient setting.
- Acoustic Neuroma Surgery: For younger patients or patients with larger tumors, traditional surgery may be the preferred option, sometimes followed by a Gamma Knife treatment.
- Monitoring: Not every patient will require acoustic neuroma treatment (for example, those who have small, asymptomatic tumors). These patients will instead be monitored for tumor growth on a structured follow-up schedule.