What is Acoustic Neuroma?

  • An acoustic neuroma is a benign tumour that grows on the eighth cranial nerve.
  • The nerve carries information about hearing and balance from the ear to the brain.
  • Over 100 people each year in Australia will find out they have an acoustic neuroma.
  • There are three treatment options available to a patient: observation, surgical removal or radiation. A decision on the best treatment should be made by the patient and their physician(s) after careful review of their situation.
  • There are three surgical approaches for the removal of an acoustic neuroma. Choice of approach is based on a number of factors including: the tumour size, location of the tumour, patient’s age and health, and whether or not hearing preservation is a goal.
  • Some of the problems that may be experienced by acoustic neuroma patients before and after surgery include:  hearing loss, tinnitus, balance problems, facial weakness or paralysis, eye problems, fatigue and headaches.
  • Radiation therapy is another form of treatment and a possible alternative to surgery. Radiation can be delivered as a single dose or as smaller doses over a period of time. The damage to the tumour at the convergence point is aimed at causing the tumour to stop growing.  It may cause short-term shrinkage due to necrosis in the tumour.

Questions and Answers

This year in Australia over 100 people will be told they have a small mass growing in their inner ear, possibly extending into their brain, which may be a benign tumour called an acoustic neuroma.

What is it?

Acoustic neuromas constitute 6-10 percent of all cranial tumours.  They are benign and usually are slow growing: their symptoms are deceptive and mimic less serious problems.  The cells which form an Acoustic neuroma are called Schwann cells and make up the lining of the eighth cranial nerve as it passes through a tiny canal which connects the inner ear to the brain.  Unknown events lead to an overproduction of Schwann cells. As they multiply they form a small mass which fills the canal

How is it found?

An acoustic neuroma usually is located after a patient reports one-sided hearing loss and the proper tests are done to locate the cause.  A range of diagnostic systems can picture acoustic neuromas after sophisticated audiometry testing suggests the cause of the hearing problem.  CAT and MRI scanning systems can outline an acoustic neuroma if one is present.

What damage can it cause if untreated?

As the tumour expands, it extends into the brain, assuming a pear shape and putting pressure on the tissue there.  By this time the patient may have had some of the symptoms which an acoustic neuroma can cause – hearing impairment in one ear, ear noise (tinnitus), ear fullness.  Other symptoms sometimes include unsteadiness or imbalance and facial numbness or twitching.  Continued growth can produce further symptoms and death may eventually result.

What can be done about it?

The three options for treatment include 1) regular monitoring to observe growth rate, 2) surgical removal or 3) radiotherapy or radiosurgery to halt tumour growth.

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