A neurofibroma is a benign tumor that forms in the myelin sheath of the peripheral nervous system. A neurofibroma is comprised of a type of cells called Schwann cells. In addition to Schwann cells neurofibroma are made up of other types of cells and structures. This is what differentiates a neurofibroma from other types of myelin sheath tumors. Neurofibroma are generally found in people who have a genetic disease called neurofibromatosis type 1.
There are two main types of neurofibroma – dermal and plexiform. Dermal only involve a single nerve and originate in the skin. They generally occur during puberty and do not become malignant. These can, however, cause itching and stinging and lead to disfigurement. Plexiform involve multiple nerves or nerve bundles. They can be large and are often difficult to remove without also removing healthy tissue. Plexiform can be painful and cause disfigurement.
Neurofibroma Signs & Symptoms
Since neurofibroma form on the skin they are easy to see. They can also form just below the skin and can cause lumps. Dermal neurofibroma generally do not grow very large, but there can be many of them. As an example a person’s entire back or face may be covered. Plexiform neurofibroma may be fewer in number, but since they often transverse several layers of skin or organs, they are more difficult to treat.
Since neurofibroma form on the skin they are easy to detect with a physical exam. Your doctor will most likely ask about your family history and may also perform a blood test. You may also want to read up on skin cancer to gain an understanding of the difference.
Treatment of neurofibroma depends on the type and location. In general dermal neurofibroma are not removed using surgery because there are usually too many of them. CO2 lasers have been used, but this can leave scars that are sometimes as bad as the neurofibroma. Plexiform neurofibromas are most often removed using surgery. This can be a painful process, but may be necessary especially if the tumor becomes malignant. In cases where this happens radiation and chemotherapy will most likely also be part of the treatment plan.
When not associated with a syndrome neurofibroma, there is a very good prognosis. Approximately 12% of those affected by them will develop cancer.