If you have been told that you may have an acoustic neuroma, learning more about the condition, how it is diagnosed and potential treatment options can help you better understand upcoming conversations with your doctor. Playing an active role throughout the process can help you have confidence and peace of mind moving forward, allowing you to focus your attention on your recovery.
About Acoustic Neuroma
An acoustic neuroma (also called a vestibular schwannoma) is a benign brain tumor that develops from the vestibulocochlear nerve. This is the cranial nerve that is responsible for carrying information about balance and hearing to the brain, which is why many patients experience issues with both.
Though an acoustic neuroma is benign, this does not mean it is entirely innocuous. Though it does not have the capability of spreading to other areas of the body, it can still grow large enough in size to press on the tissues surrounding it, necessitating treatment. These tumors tend to grow very slowly and are not often detected until ages 30 to 60, which is when symptoms may begin to occur.=
Symptoms of Acoustic Neuroma
Acoustic neuroma symptoms can be related to the function of the vestibulocochlear nerve itself, or they may result from the tumor impinging on other structures. Some acoustic neuromas are small and never cause any symptoms at all. However, if you do experience symptoms, they might include:
- Hearing loss in one ear
- Ringing in one ear
- Facial numbness and/or weakness
- Difficulty with balance
- Hydrocephalus (fluid buildup in the brain)
If you are experiencing the above symptoms, there are tests that will assist your doctor in diagnosing acoustic neuroma. These include physical examinations of your ear and the use of MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or CT (computed tomography) scans to officially confirm the diagnosis.
Acoustic Neuroma Treatment Options
If you are diagnosed with acoustic neuroma, it is important for you to find a neurosurgeon in the northern NJ area with expertise in the condition. Because tumors of the brain exist in a delicate area, you will want to work with someone who has the knowledge and experience to provide appropriate care.
Generally speaking, there are three methods of treating your acoustic neuroma. Your doctor will work with you to develop a treatment plan based on the size and location of your tumor, as well as your personal health factors. The three different approaches are discussed below.
If your acoustic neuroma is small and asymptomatic, your doctor may advise a “watch and wait” approach before initiating any treatment. Sometimes an acoustic neuroma is discovered incidentally while undergoing imaging for other reasons, in which case monitoring your tumor for any growth or changes may be the most appropriate option.
Surgery for Acoustic Neuroma
Surgical removal, or resection, of an acoustic neuroma is another treatment option that may be appropriate for young patients or those with large tumors. There are cases where the surgeon cannot remove the entire tumor and radiation therapy may be used to help eliminate any remaining tumor cells.
Acoustic neuroma surgery takes place in a hospital while you are asleep, and most patients spend about a week recovering before being discharged to return home. Following your surgery, you can expect to be on activity and work restrictions for 6 to 12 weeks, though this will depend on your personal circumstances.
Gamma Knife Radiosurgery
Though it sounds like a surgical procedure, Gamma Knife is actually a form of stereotactic radiosurgery, an advanced form of radiation therapy. The procedure is noninvasive and there are no incisions. You will be awake the whole time. Because it is an outpatient procedure, you do not need to stay overnight in the hospital. Gamma Knife radiosurgery is an excellent treatment option for many patients with acoustic neuroma, either on its own or as a follow-up to surgical resection.
The Gamma Knife system is incredibly precise, using approximately 200 individual beams of radiation to target a highly specific area. This allows your doctor to treat the tumor without damaging surrounding healthy tissues, resulting in fewer unpleasant side effects. You may experience headaches, nausea and fatigue for a few days, but these are generally mild, transient and can be managed with medications.
Gamma Knife radiosurgery is a highly advanced alternative treatment option for many patients who may not be candidates for surgery, have tumors in high-risk areas or prefer a noninvasive approach. By eliminating the risks associated with surgery, such as bleeding and infection, along with reactions to anesthesia, you can expect a shorter recovery with less pain and fewer complications than surgery.
Diagnosing Acoustic Neuroma Requires an Expert
If you feel like you are experiencing the symptoms discussed above, the next step is to find a neurosurgeon in the NJ area with expertise in the condition. Because an acoustic neuroma is a tumor arising from the nerve responsible for your hearing and balance, it is important to work with someone who has the expertise to manage your case and make appropriate treatment recommendations. That way, you can rest easy knowing that you are receiving the best possible care for you and your individual condition.