What is schwannoma?

Schwannomas are tumors of the tissue that covers the nerves and are usually noncancerous, or benign. These tumors develop from a type of cell called a Schwann cell. Even though a schwannoma can occur in any nerve in the body, the most common areas include the nerves of the head and neck and those involved with moving the arms and legs. Schwannoma tumors are usually slow-growing.

What causes a schwannoma tumor?

As with many tumors, the exact cause of Schwannoma is unknown. These tumors can sometimes occur in people with certain disorders including some types of neurofibromatosis; in these cases, affected people have multiple tumors that are due to mutations in a gene.

Common schwannoma symptoms and signs include:

  • A slow-growing mass and an electric-like shock when affected area is touched
  • One-sided hearing loss and buzzing or ringing in the ear
  • Dizziness, although it is less common
  • Facial paralysis if the tumor affects the facial nerve
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Impaired eye movement
  • Taste disturbances
  • Unsteadiness

What are the treatments for schwannoma?

The best schwannoma treatment option depends on several factors, including the size and location of the tumor, whether the tumor is benign or malignant, and your age and overall health. Following schwannoma surgery or treatment, regular follow-ups with physical exams and imaging with your physician is recommended, since there is a chance that the schwannoma tumor may return. Schwannoma treatment options include:

  • Surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible.
  • Radiosurgery (stereotactic radiosurgery) or gamma knife treatment that uses one high dose of radiation sent right into the cancerous tissue and causes less damage to nearby tissues. It is not actually surgery, but like surgery, it is a one-session treatment that removes the tumor.
  • Radiation is used to kill off tumor cells and limit the growth of the schwannoma tumor.
  • Chemotherapy involves the use of medications that stop the growth of the tumor and can be given orally or through an IV as part of your schwannoma treatment.