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It is estimated that only one person in every 100,000 in the United States is diagnosed with acoustic neuroma each year. While they can develop at almost any age, acoustic neuromas most commonly occur between 40 and 50.
Recent studies have shown that more cases of acoustic neuroma are being diagnosed. This may be due partly to advances in MRI scanning.
The tumors usually grow slowly and do not spread through the body. They generally affect hearing, balance and facial nerves. Although acoustic neuroma is not cancer, tumors can be dangerous if they grow large and press against the brainstem or brain.
Acoustic Neuroma Risk Factors
The cause of acoustic neuroma is not known. Neurofibromatosis type 2, a genetic disorder, can lead to acoustic neuroma formation in a small number of cases.
If you are concerned about this inherited family syndrome, we offer advanced genetic testing to let you know your risk.
Although there are theories that exposure to loud noise, head and neck radiation, or use of cellular phones may increase likelihood of acoustic neuromas, none of these have been scientifically proven.
Symptoms of acoustic neuroma vary from person to person.
They may include:
- Hearing loss in one ear, which may happen suddenly or develop slowly
- Tinnitus (ringing sound) in one ear
- Feeling of fullness in one ear
- Dizziness, balance problems or unsteadiness (rare)
Acoustic neuroma symptoms often develop slowly, and they often are mistaken for normal changes of aging. You should see your doctor if you have:
- Any type of hearing loss or change
- Ringing in one ear that lasts for a couple of months or longer
These symptoms usually do not mean you have acoustic neuroma. However, it is important to discuss any symptoms with your doctor, since they may signal other health problems.
Hearing loss may be discovered during routine hearing tests. If this happens, a type of hearing test called an audiogram should be done to evaluate the hearing in both ears.
Acoustic neuromas are diagnosed with MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans.
If you have symptoms that may signal acoustic neuroma, your doctor will examine you and ask you questions about your health.
If you are diagnosed with acoustic neuroma, your doctor will discuss the best options to treat it. This depends on several factors, including:
- The size and location of the tumor
- Your age
- Your general health
- Your hearing
- Your preference
Your acoustic neuroma treatment will be customized to your particular needs. One or more of the following therapies may be recommended.
Like all surgeries, acoustic neuroma surgery is most successful when performed by a specialist with a great deal of experience in the particular procedure. MD Anderson’s surgeons are among the most experienced in the nation in surgery to treat acoustic neuromas.
Surgery for acoustic neuromas is complex and delicate, and it requires a team of experts from several specialties.
Surgical approaches include:
- Through the mastoid bone (translabyrinthine)
- Behind the ear (retrosigmoid)
- Above the ear (middle fossa)
Your physician will recommend the best type of surgery for your specific condition. Hearing preservation approaches are available for some carefully selected patients most likely to benefit from the procedure.
Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) is a non-invasive treatment that uses dozens of tiny radiation beams to accurately target brain tumors with a single high dose of radiation. Despite its name, SRS is not a surgical procedure and does not require an incision or anesthesia
Observation with serial imaging
Sometimes called watchful waiting, this approach may be used for some patients with slow-growing tumors. It includes careful observation and periodic MRIs.
Why choose MD Anderson for your acoustic neuroma care?
MD Anderson’s Head and Neck Center offers customized care for patients with acoustic neuroma. Because they are uncommon and complex, acoustic neuromas demand attention from a highly skilled, diverse group of specialists.
The physicians and other professionals at MD Anderson have a remarkable level of experience and expertise in treating acoustic neuroma.
Acoustic neuroma or its treatment can cause hearing loss. MD Anderson’s comprehensive Audiology Service helps evaluate and manage this issue. Rehabilitation services include conventional hearing aids, bone-anchored hearing aids (BAHA) or contralateral routing of sound hearing aids (CROS).
Occasionally patients develop additional challenges after treatment for acoustic neuroma, such as facial paralysis or imbalance. Consulting physicians in ophthalmology, plastic and reconstructive surgery, and rehabilitation medicine are available to help manage these issues.
In addition, many other experts may be part of your team, including:
- Oculoplastic surgeons for management of eye complications
- Physical therapists for balance problems
- Speech and swallowing expertsPersonalized Treatment
Bilateral acoustic neuroma is a sign of a rare inherited disorder called neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2). We offer complete genetic testing and counseling to help determine your risk. As one of the nation’s top research institutions, MD Anderson is investigating new ways to treat acoustic neuroma, especially for patients with NF2.
And, at MD Anderson you’re surrounded by the strength of one of the nation’s largest and most experienced comprehensive cancer centers, which has all the support and wellness services needed to treat the whole person – not just the disease.
I appreciated that Dr. DeMonte told it like it was, gave me my options and then shared his advice. I was never pressured one way or another, and the decision was mine.
“I was so thankful that it was me and not somebody else in my family,” she says.
Shannon’s ear had felt stopped up for months, but she didn’t think much of it until she picked up her work phone one day in 2013 and couldn’t hear the dial tone. An MRI showed a large brain tumor was pressing against her brain stem. It had caused 60% hearing loss in her right ear and was impairing her balance.
Choosing MD Anderson for acoustic neuroma surgery
“I went to a bunch of different doctors, but I felt very uneasy about my surgery options,” she says.
That’s when the College Station, Texas, resident decided to look up experts at MD Anderson and found Franco DeMonte, M.D.
“When I went to Dr. DeMonte, I asked, ‘How many cases of facial paralysis have you had and what are my chances for that?’” she says. “Compared to what I’d heard from other surgeons, his numbers were miniscule, and I found such comfort in that.”
Spreading hope and kindness
In September 2013, Shannon underwent her acoustic neuroma surgery.
“What concerned me was thinking about my friends and family sitting for 10-and-a-half hours and waiting and worrying about me,” she says. “I wanted to give my daughter and her two best friends something to get the focus off of me and think about other people.”