Schwannoma is a cancerous tumor that occurs in the nerve sheath. The nerve sheath is a covering around the nerves in the brain and spine.
Schwannoma are made up strictly of Schwann cells. These are the cells that normally produce the myelin sheath. The tumor stays within the nerve where it develops, but it can become a problem when it grows large enough to put pressure on surrounding nerves or pushes against a bone.
Most schwannoma are benign, with less than 1% being malignant. A malignant schwannoma is called a neurofibrosarcoma, which falls under a category of tumors known as soft tissue sarcoma.
While the cause of schwannoma is not fully understood, it is linked to a genetic disorder called neurofibromatosis. They are slow growing tumors that are usually diagnosed in people between the ages of 30 – 50 years old. They are most frequently found in the head and neck area.
Every schwannoma tests positive for the protein S-100. Other names for schwannoma are neurilemmoma, neurinoma, and neurolemmoma.
Signs & Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of schwannoma can include a growth on the face that may or may not be painful, hearing and balance loss, and numbness of the face. Hearing and balance loss occur as a result of the tumor interfering with the inner workings of the ears. Numbness or pain can result from the tumor pushing up against nerves.
Schwannoma is diagnosed initially with a physical exam and a neurological exam. Doctors will then perform imaging tests such as a CT scan or an MRI. This will tell them the exact location and size of the tumor. Finally a biopsy of the tumor cells is done to confirm a diagnosis of schwannoma.
When possible the most effective treatment for schwannoma is surgery and complete removal of the tumor. Sometimes surgery is not possible due to the location of the tumor and its proximity to important nerves. Radiation is often used after surgery to help prevent the tumor from coming back. Intense radiation treatments are sometimes used when surgery is not possible.
The prognosis for schwannoma really varies from person to person based on their individual case. The size and location of the tumor and whether or not it is operable are key factors in determining the outcome for a patient. Schwannoma have been known to recur even with surgery or aggressive radiation treatment, but for some patients they are cancer free for the rest of their lives.