Acoustic neuroma, also known as vestibular schwannoma, is a benign growth (or tumor) arising from the nerves of balance. These tumors typically develop in a small tunnel between the ear and the brain (known as the internal auditory canal). Over time, if these tumors grow, they can push on the brain as well as other nerves that are nearby. These tumors are not malignant and do not spread to other parts of the body. In rare cases, tumors thought to be acoustic neuromas may actually be coming from the facial nerve (facial nerve neuroma). However, this is often not known until the time of open surgery.
Acoustic neuromas generally cause hearing loss and ringing in one ear. Other symptoms may include a sense of imbalance, numbness of the face, headaches, and, rarely, facial twitching or weakness.
The three basic treatment options for acoustic neuroma are as follows:
- Observation with repeated MRI scans to assess for tumor growth;
- Stereotactic radiation therapy; and
- Surgical removal.
Tumor size, tumor location, degree of tumor-related symptoms, patient age, the health status of the patient, level of hearing (in each ear), level of balance function, and patient preference are just some of the factors that must be considered in choosing a treatment option. A discussion with a Neurotologist (a surgeon that deals with disorders of the ear and its interface with the brain) is essential for patients with acoustic neuroma to understand the impact of these tumors and help determine the most appropriate treatment option.
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