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What is an acoustic neuroma (vestibular schwannoma)?

Acoustic neuromas, also known as a vestibular schwannomas, account for 8% of all primary brain tumours.

If you or someone you know has just been diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma, you may be worried about what this means. This is a natural way to feel. Our Support and Information team can help answer any questions you may have or provide a listening ear if you need one.

What is an acoustic neuroma?

Acoustic neuromas are low grade brain tumours that tend to affect adults between the ages of 30 to 60.

They grow along one of the main cranial nerves in the brain, known as the acoustic or vestibulocochlear nerve.

The tumour grows from schwann cells, which wrap themselves around nerves to protect them and help with their function.

Acoustic neuromas are:

  • slow growing
  • rarely life threatening.

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Track how you feel

Being diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma can be overwhelming. Use BRIAN’s quality-of-life tracker to monitor how you feel and the symptoms you have. Then share this with your loved ones and healthcare team to show what you most need support with.

Track how you feel

BRIAN is our trusted online app where you can track your experience, compare it with others who’ve been there and get the knowledge you need to make informed decisions.

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What are the symptoms of an acoustic neuroma?

As the acoustic nerve, along which these tumours grow, controls hearing and balance, common symptoms include:

Loss of hearing

The first symptom in 90% of cases, it’s often accompanied by ringing in the ear called tinnitus.

This loss usually progresses over time, but some people may experience a sudden loss of hearing. Others describe a feeling of 'fullness' in the affected ear.

Problems with balance

Sometimes called vertigo, you may get a feeling of your surroundings spinning. This can make you feel unsteady and have balance problems. It can occur during the growth of the tumour.

Other symptoms

Larger acoustic neuroma tumours may lead to increased pressure in the brain, causing headaches and blurred or double vision.

If the tumour presses on the facial nerve (trigeminal nerve), it can cause facial numbness and tingling.

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How are acoustic neuromas treated?

Even with treatment, symptoms such as tinnitus and hearing loss can persist. These symptoms will require additional treatment.

Some small acoustic neuromas that aren’t causing many symptoms may not need immediate treatment. You will be put on active monitoring (also known as watch and wait).

Surgery is usually only used to remove larger tumours, as it can result in the loss of hearing in the affected ear. This is sometimes followed by stereotactic radiotherapy.

Acoustic neuromas very rarely return after surgery, but you may continue to have regular MRI scans.

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What causes acoustic neuromas?

As with other brain tumours, the cause of most acoustic neuromas is unknown, although we do understand some of the risk factors involved.

It’s important to know that there is nothing you could have done, or avoided doing, that would have caused you or somebody you know to develop a brain tumour.

However, around 7% of cases are caused by a rare genetic disorder known as neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF-2).

What is NF-2?

NF-2 is a genetic condition that causes low grade tumours to grow along your nerves. It’s caused by a permanent change (mutation) in a gene that makes the growth of nerve tissue become uncontrolled. In half of all cases of NF-2, the mutation is passed from parent to child. There are genetic tests that can be carried out during pregnancy to test whether your child will have NF-2, but it’s normally diagnosed after birth.

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How long can I live with an acoustic neuroma?

This is impossible to answer for certain. While averages can be given, everybody is different – it will depend on so many factors – not only your tumour grade, size and location, but also your general health, your individual body chemistry, and how you respond to treatment.

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Get support

If you need someone to talk to or advice on where to get help, our Support and Information team is available by phone, email or live-chat.

If you have further questions, need to clarify any of the information on this page, or want to find out more about research and clinical trials, please contact our team:

Support and Information Services

0808 800 0004 (free from landlines and mobiles)

support@thebraintumourcharity.org

Phone lines open Mon-Fri, 09:00-17:00

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