Whether you have been recently diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma or have been in a “watch and wait” phase for a while, it’s good to have an understanding of the treatment options available to you. By gaining a deeper knowledge of your condition and treatment, you will be able to carry on more informed conversations with your doctor and participate more actively in your care throughout the process.
The following information will provide background knowledge about acoustic neuromas to form a basis for the discussion of treatment options. Both traditional and alternative treatments for acoustic neuroma will be highlighted to ensure you have an idea of some of the different approaches that are available.
About Acoustic Neuroma
The first step in understanding your treatment options is to learn more about your condition. An acoustic neuroma is a benign brain tumor that develops from the vestibulocochlear nerve, the cranial nerve responsible for hearing and balance. This is why some of your symptoms may be related to hearing disturbances and/or vertigo.
Acoustic neuromas tend to be discovered in people between 30 and 60 years old. This is because these tumors grow slowly and tend to go unnoticed until that point. They typically only occur on one side of the body, except for patients with a rare genetic disorder called neurofibromatosis type 2.
It’s important to point out that a benign tumor still has the potential to cause negative health effects. Because it is benign, an acoustic neuroma will not spread to other sites of the body. However, if it grows large enough, it may press on nearby structures, producing symptoms and requiring treatment. Based on your individual health factors and the characteristics of your particular tumor, your doctor will recommend the treatment approach that is most appropriate for you.
Traditional Treatments for Acoustic Neuroma
The traditional treatment for acoustic neuroma is surgical removal of as much of the tumor as possible, called resection. Surgery takes place in a hospital, and you will be asleep during the procedure to ensure you are as comfortable as possible. Following the procedure, you can expect to spend about a week recovering in the hospital before being discharged to return home.
Generally speaking, your doctor may recommend surgery if your acoustic neuroma is especially large or if you are young. Because surgery carries certain risks, some patients may not be candidates for this approach. However, there are new, alternative treatments for acoustic neuroma besides traditional surgery that are worth learning about.
Alternative Treatments for Acoustic Neuroma
The first alternative treatment for acoustic neuroma is to take a “watch and wait” approach. If your tumor is very small and not causing any adverse effects, your doctor may recommend a follow-up schedule of visits and imaging to see if your tumor grows any before initiating treatment.
However, if you do require treatment, an excellent alternative option is Gamma Knife, a form of stereotactic radiosurgery. While this may sound like another surgical option, it is actually a form of radiation therapy that uses a highly focused beam to target a very specific site. Using the Gamma Knife system, the neurosurgeon is able to target your acoustic neuroma precisely, shrinking and destroying the tumor while sparing nearby structures. This reduces the risk of permanent hearing damage or other risks that are associated with surgery.
Unlike surgery, Gamma Knife radiosurgery takes place in an outpatient setting, which means you do not have to stay overnight in the hospital. The procedure is noninvasive, which means there are no scalpels or incisions, and most patients are able to resume all normal activities within a couple of days. The actual treatment time is about 15-60 minutes, and some patients only need to be treated for a single session.
As an alternative treatment for acoustic neuroma, Gamma Knife radiosurgery is a fantastic treatment option for small tumors or in patients who cannot tolerate surgery due to complicating health factors. Gamma Knife can also be used in a combination approach, following surgical resection of a large tumor to ensure that all of the tumor cells have been eradicated.
Treating Your Individual Condition
Now that you have a more in-depth understanding of your acoustic neuroma and the treatment options available to you, be sure to discuss any remaining questions you may have with your personal doctor. He or she will be able to best explain any treatment recommendations and why you may be a candidate for a particular procedure and not another.
If your doctor has not discussed Gamma Knife radiosurgery with you as a treatment option and you would like more information, be sure to bring it up at your next appointment. You may find it helpful to write down questions ahead of time, and you can carry forward the information you have learned today into that conversation.
The fact that you are taking extra time to educate yourself demonstrates that you are interested in playing an active role in your care. Continue to learn and ask questions throughout the process. You will find that the more you understand along the way, the more comfortable you will be as your treatment date approaches.
“Everything is looking good, and my hearing is the same as it was before surgery.” - Adam Zawislak