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The membranes which surround and protect the brain are called the meninges. Occasionally cells in the meninges will reproduce abnormally and a tumor, called a meningioma, will develop. Although it can be cancerous, it is most commonly a benign tumor. This means it will not spread to other areas of the brain.
The reason the tumor develops it not known. It can occur in people of all ages and is a little more common in women. Individuals who have undergone prior radiation therapy to the brain are at an increased risk.
Not all individuals will have symptoms, especially if the tumor is small. When symptoms do develop they may vary depending on the location and size of the meningioma and include headaches, vision changes and difficulty hearing. Other symptoms may include memory loss and possibly seizures. Symptoms may be mild at first. As the tumor grows, symptoms may increase in frequency and severity.
A few different tests may be done to confirm a diagnosis. A computerized tomography (CT) scan is often done to determine the presence and location of the meningioma. Some physicians may prefer the patient undergo a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. A MRI is a more sensitive test and can detect small changes in the size of a tumor.
Even if a meningioma is not cancerous, it may require treatment. The type of treatment needed will depend on the size of the tumor, location and how fast it appears to be growing. If an individual is not symptomatic, treatment may not be required. Routine CT scans to monitor the growth of the tumor may be needed.
When treatment is needed, surgery may be an option. Meningioma surgery to remove the tumor may have risks, such as infection and damage to other areas of the brain. A meningioma may not be able to be removed completely during surgery. Although the tumor arises from the membranes and not the brain itself, it may be located close to the brain and be dangerous to remove completely.
Radiation therapy is another treatment option. It may be recommended if the entire tumor was not removed during surgery. An external beam of radiation is directed at the areas of the tumor to destroy it. Radiation therapy is usually prescribed over several weeks. Although everyone responds differently to radiation therapy, side effects are possible and may include fatigue, headache, and nausea.
Recovery from a meningioma and its treatment may depend on the overall health of the patient, size of the tumor and the patient’s age. Although many patients never have a recurrence, it’s possible the tumor can grow back after treatment. Regular CT scans may be suggested to spot a recurrence early.