Acoustic Neuromas (Vestibular Schwannomas)

Acoustic neuromas are also referred to as vestibular  schwannomas  are tumors that arise in Schwann cells — the cells that are responsible for producing the myelin sheath involved in nerve cell function and are involved in functional repair in the event of injury. Schwann cells only rarely become malignant (able to invade the local tissue and/or spread to distant sites in the body), but they do form benign (non-cancerous) tumors. If the tumors become large enough they may press on important structures in the brain (including the brain stem).
Acoustic neuromas (vestibular schwannomas) are relatively rare tumors, accounting for about 10 percent of primary brain tumors — those that begin in the brain are referred to as primary tumors — and 29 percent of primary spinal tumors. They occur most frequently in people between 40 and 60 years old. When they occur in the brain, the nerve most commonly affected is the “nerve of hearing” — the eighth cranial nerve, which affects hearing and balance: these tumors are called acoustic neuromas or vestibular schwannomas. They can cause any of the following symptoms: 

  • Growth or swelling on the face that may or may not be painful
  • Facial numbness, weakness or paralysis
  • Hearing loss or ringing in the in the ear (tinnitus is the medical term) caused by acoustic neuroma (also known as vestibular) 
  • Poor balance or coordination (acoustic neuroma)

Despite the fact that acoustic neuromas (vestibular schwannomas)are usually slow-growing and only rarely malignant, they can become dangerous if they press on other tissues. A large spinal schwannoma, for example, may cause symptoms such as tingling, numbness, weakness, back pain that worsens when lying down, and pain that radiates throughout the legs. In the most serious cases, paralysis may occur. If a schwannoma is suspected based on symptoms, your doctor will perform a physical and neurological examination. The diagnostic procedures will include various imaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT). This information will also be used to develop a treatment plan. In some cases, watching and waiting or monitoring is the appropriate choice. If treatment is needed, surgery to completely remove the tumor is the most common approach. In other cases your doctors will recommend radiation or chemotherapy or an experimental treatment offered as part of a clinical trial.

Treating Acoustic Neuromas (Vestibular Schwannomas)

Treatment for acoustic neuroma (vestibular schwannomas) may include surgery if the tumors are small. Your doctor may want to remove the tumor surgically or wait to see how it evolves over time through diligent monitoring. 

For larger tumors, surgery is complicated by the probable damage to hearing, balance and facial nerves. In these cases, stereotactic radiosurgery may be a treatment option. This procedure uses carefully focused radiation to reduce the size or limit the growth of the tumor. 

If you require surgery to remove your tumor, Houston Methodist neurosurgeons use the latest technology to ensure success.  Click here for more information about the surgical treatment options available at Houston Methodist. 

Specific treatment for acoustic neuroma (vestibular schwannomas) will be determined by your doctor based on your individual needs and the following conditions:
  • Age, overall health and medical history
  • Extent of the disease
  • Tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the disease
  • Your opinion or preference

Patient Stories

Perhaps the best way to learn about our highly trained  neurosurgeons at Houston Methodist is through our patients. Listen as Doug, his daughter and his Houston Methodist neurosurgeon describe his experience in deciding where his surgery would take place. The surgery was challenging for the patient and the doctor, but just six weeks later, it was as though the tumor had never been there.

We invite you to learn about other inspiring patient stories and their experience of being a patient at Kenneth R. Peak Brain & Pituitary Tumor Treatment Center. 
Kenneth R. Peak Brain and Pituitary Tumor Treatment & Research Center 
Houston Methodist Hospital - Texas Medical Center
6445 Main Street, Outpatient Center, Floor 24
Houston, TX 77030