A Tumor Called Meningioma: What You Can Expect

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This medical mouthful is the most common type of brain tumor. Meningiomas develop in the tissue that surrounds your brain or spinal cord. Premier Health neurosurgeon Ania Pollack, MD, provides the details.

Up to 80 percent of meningiomas are slow growing and benign (not cancerous), Dr. Pollack explains. “The rest are unpredictable; we call them atypical or grade II. These grow more quickly and often come back if they are removed.” About 2 percent of these atypical or grade II meningiomas are cancerous.

What Are the Symptoms?

When the tumor is very small, you may not have any symptoms, says Dr. Pollack. But as it grows, it pushes against the tissue around it. Your symptoms depend on where the tumor is located, but as it presses against nerves, blood vessels, or bones it can cause:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Problems with speech
  • Severe back pain, weakness or numbness (particularly if the tumor is near the spinal canal)

How Is Meningioma Treated?

The most common treatment for meningioma is surgery to remove it. “Completely removing the tumor and some of the healthy tissue that surrounds it offers the best chance of cure,” Dr. Pollack explains. “Sometimes total removal of the tumor isn’t possible; for example, doing so might carry a significant risk for complications. In this case, we surgically remove whatever we can in order to reduce the size of the tumor, and then we follow up with radiation.”

There are some instances in which neurosurgeons decide against surgery. “Instead we likely would perform stereotactic radiosurgery. This is radiation that is precisely targeted to the size, shape, and location of your tumor,” says Dr. Pollack. Sometimes another, more standard type of radiation is needed. “But in all instances, radiation won’t make a tumor go away. It stops a tumor from growing, but the tumor will still be there,” she adds.

In spite of extensive research, there is no drug that will effectively treat meningiomas. “A lot of money, time, and brilliant minds have searched for a medication, but we haven’t found one yet that will work,” Dr. Pollack says of her neuroscience colleagues. While chemotherapy works well at treating many cancers, it is not effective with meningiomas.

All meningiomas require follow-up by your physician. “Even if you are found to have a very small tumor and it is benign, you need to be followed regularly. This is extremely important,” Dr. Pollack states. “Your tumor may behave for several years and then suddenly become aggressive. Without regular follow-up it could begin growing without us realizing it, to the point where we can’t effectively treat it.” If you’re diagnosed with meningioma, you need to commit to lifelong follow-up, she insists.

Who Is Most At Risk?

Your chance of developing a meningioma is higher in these instances:

  • Age. They are most common in adults age 65 and older. Meningiomas are rare in children.
  • Gender. Women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with benign meningiomas. But men and women are equally as likely to develop cancerous meningiomas.
  • Radiation exposure to your head may increase your risk of developing meningiomas.
  • There has been some research that connects meningioma growth with obesity and with the use of oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy.

What Are Survival Rates?

“It’s difficult to discuss a survival rate for meningiomas because there are many different types, and they all behave differently,” says Dr. Pollack. The Central Brain Tumor Registry of the United States says it this way:

  • The 10-year survival rate for patients with non-cancerous meningiomas is about 84 percent.
  • The 10-year survival rate for patients with more aggressive or cancerous meningiomas (atypical or grade II) is about 62 percent.

“When the meningioma is in the spine instead of the brain, the survival percentages are a little bit higher,” Dr. Pollack says.

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