What Is a Meningioma?

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Meningiomas are tumors that are found in the brain and spinal cord. They are the most common type of noncancerous tumors of the central nervous system. These tumors are slow growing, which makes them harder to identify and diagnose. Symptoms are usually subtle at first, becoming more obvious over a long period of time. This makes it easy to ignore or overlook early signs of a meningioma.

More women than men get meningiomas, and the risk of developing these tumors increases with age. Still, meningiomas are very rare. Currently, fewer than 3,000 people are living with a meningioma in the United States.

This article will discuss the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for meningiomas. 

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Symptoms

Each section of the brain manages different jobs within the body. Depending on where a tumor grows within the brain, it can affect certain functions more than others. Because of this, meningioma symptoms may vary depending on the location and size of the tumor. 

Since meningiomas are slow-growing tumors, the symptoms will change over time. Often, symptoms are nonexistent or subtle at first, so it may not be obvious that a brain or spinal tumor is the problem. This makes them hard to find and diagnose.

Common symptoms of meningiomas regardless of location, include:

  • Vision changes
  • Loss of hearing or smell
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Headaches
  • Personality or behavior changes
  • Hearing changes
  • Nausea or vomiting

Causes

Tumors like meningiomas develop when the cells in your body begin to mutate (change). As these cells mutate, they grow and spread. The exact reason you develop a meningioma is unknown. However, researchers are looking for answers every day.

Researchers have discovered a few factors that may increase the risk of developing a meningioma, including the following:

  • Sex: Women are twice as likely to develop a meningioma than men, possibly due to hormonal changes. Research suggests that low levels of physical activity, higher body weight, and a history of uterine fibroids may also increase a woman's risk.
  • Radiation exposure: Exposure to radiation, especially during childhood, may increase the odds of having a meningioma later in life.
  • Genetic mutations: Certain genes, such as the NF2 mutation that causes type 2 neurofibromatosis (a genetic disorder causing tumors to develop on nerve tissue), are known to increase the risk of a meningioma. Other genes linked to meningioma are DAL1, AKT1, and TRAF7.

Diagnosis

If your doctor suspects you have a meningioma, you will likely be referred to a neurologist, a doctor specializing in disorders of the brain, spinal cord, and nerves, for a thorough examination and testing.

The procedures and tests typically used to diagnose meningioma, include the following:

  • Neurological exam: Using a series of tests, your doctor will assess your muscle strength, balance, reflexes, and levels of awareness and nerve sensitivity. This helps to confirm whether your symptoms are neurological.
  • Imaging tests: Your doctor will also order imagining tests to help them confirm the location of the tumor and get a sense of its size and type. The main types of imaging used to diagnose brain tumors are magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans.
  • Biopsy: During this procedure, a neurosurgeon will remove a small piece of the tumor to be sent off to a lab to be examined under a microscope. A neuropathologist will review the tumor’s tissue, determine whether the tumor is benign or cancerous, and confirm a diagnosis. 

Treatment

If you are diagnosed with meningioma, your healthcare team will work with you to create a treatment plan. Your doctor will look at your overall health, your symptoms, and the tumor's location, size, and overall rate of growth in determining the best treatment options for your situation.

The most common treatment options for a meningioma include:

  • Active surveillance: Since meningiomas are often noncancerous and slow growing, your doctor may recommend a "watchful waiting" approach, in which the tumor is left untreated but monitored closely with regular checkups and imaging tests. Your doctor will pay close attention to any changes in the tumor or worsening symptoms. This is common when the meningioma is not causing symptoms, or if people are more likely to have side effects from treatment.
  • Surgery: Surgery is the preferred treatment for removing a meningioma, especially if the tumor is found to be cancerous. A neurosurgeon will perform an operation under general anesthesia to remove as much of the tumor as possible.
  • Radiation: Depending on the size and location of the tumor, your healthcare team may also recommend radiation therapy. In this therapy, high-energy X-rays are directed at the tumor to kill off the cells. In some cases, radiation is used before surgery to shrink the tumor and make surgery easier. In other cases, such as if the meningioma is cancerous, radiation may be used after surgery to kill off any remaining cancer cells and reduce the chance of spread or recurrence.

Prognosis

While a meningioma can be life-threatening, most people are able to live a full, long life after receiving a diagnosis.

For people with a benign tumor, the 10-year survival rate after treatment is 84%, and those with cancerous meningiomas have a 10-year survival rate of 62%.

A Word from Verywell

While learning you have a brain or spinal tumor is upsetting, in most cases these growths are not cancerous and are able to be treated effectively. It’s important to work with your healthcare team to develop a treatment plan that will give you the best chance of making a full recovery.

As you go through this journey, you'll need the support of friends and family, so make a point to reach out and ask for help. You may also find comfort in joining a support group. Ask your doctor or local hospital to point you in the right direction to a support group and any additional resources that you may need.

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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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