Vestibular Schwannoma

Pituitary Tumors

This is a type of benign tumor that’s also known as acoustic neuroma or Angle tumor; it’s a non- cancerous tumor that affects the eighth cranial nerve running from the inner ear to the brain. Healthy nerves are covered by a sheath of Schwann cells, which help in providing insulation and support to the nerve impulses as the nerve passes through a tiny canal connecting the inner ear to the brain. When these Schwann cells begin to multiply rapidly, vestibular schwannomas develop.

Vestibular Schwannomas typically grow very slowly, or if you are lucky, not at all; in rare cases however, they may start to multiply rapidly and become large enough to press against the brain and interfere with vital brain functions. The branches of the eighth cranial nerve influence balance and hearing, and pressure from an enlarged neuroma can lead to improper functioning of these two features. Sadly, in some cases, hearing loss, tinnitus and unsteadiness may result.

The loss of hearing is subtle and worsens slowly till one day you suddenly realize that you really can’t hear much from one ear! Don’t be too complacent as in rare cases, sudden loss of hearing does occur also. Early symptoms may include a feeling of pressure or fullness in the ear; unfortunately, these symptoms are sometimes mistaken as normal changes of the ageing process and correct diagnosis gets delayed. In the later stages, vestibular schwannoma can affect the nerves of the cerebellum and brainstem, leading to life-threatening increased pressure within the brain.

Other less common symptoms include headaches, dizziness, loss of balance, vision problems, numbness or pain in the face or one ear as well as difficulty in understanding speech.

This type of tumor is a rare condition and its occurrence is distributed equally between the genders and occurs in the range of 30-60 years of age. A study in the US put its incidence in 2010 as 1/1,00,000 people.

The cause of vestibular schwannomas is really unknown with a growing body of evidence pointing to sporadic defects in the tumor suppressor genes in certain people; other studies have hinted at exposure to continuous loud noises also being a cause. A specific study has linked the neuroma to previous exposure to head and neck radiation. Even exposures to hand held cell phones have been suggested to be behind these tumors.

Treatment options available are of three types. These include the ‘wait and watch’ approach, radiation and microsurgical removal. The course of treatment followed is dependent on the size and location of the tumor and the patient’s age and physical health and current level of symptoms. However, despite treatment, one of the biggest drawbacks is that in most cases, the patients hearing loss cannot be restored.

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