An acoustic neuroma is a slow-growing tumor of the nerve that connects the ear to the brain. This nerve is called the vestibular cochlear nerve. It is behind the ear right under the brain.
An acoustic neuroma is not cancerous (benign), which means it does not spread to other parts of the body. However, it can damage several important nerves as it grows.
Acoustic neuromas have been linked with the genetic disorder neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2).
Acoustic neuromas are relatively uncommon.
The symptoms vary based on the size and location of the tumor. Because the tumor grows so slowly, symptoms usually start after the age of 30.
Common symptoms include:
Less common symptoms include:
The health care provider may diagnose an acoustic neuroma based on your medical history, an examination of your nervous system, or tests.
Often, the physical exam is normal at the time the tumor is diagnosed. Occasionally, the following signs may be present:
The most useful test to identify an acoustic neuroma is an MRI of the head. Other useful tests to diagnose the tumor and tell it apart from other causes of dizziness or vertigo include:
Treatment depends on the size and location of the tumor, your age, and overall health. You and your health care provider must decide whether to watch the tumor (observation), use radiation to stop it from growing, or try to remove it.
Many acoustic neuromas are small and grow very slowly. Small tumors with few or no symptoms may be followed, particularly in older patients. Regular MRI scans will be done.
If they are not treated, some acoustic neuromas can damage the nerves involved in hearing and balance, as well as the nerves responsible for movement and feeling in the face. Very large tumors can lead to a buildup of fluid (hydrocephalus) in the brain, which can be life-threatening.
Removing an acoustic neuroma is more commonly done for:
Surgery is done to remove the tumor and prevent other nerve damage. Any remaining hearing is often lost with surgery.
Stereotactic radiosurgery focuses high-powered x-rays on a small area. It is considered to be a form of radiation therapy, not a surgical procedure. It may be used:
Removing an acoustic neuroma can damage nerves, causing loss of hearing or weakness in the face muscles. This damage is more likely to occur when the tumor is next to or around the nerves.
An acoustic neuroma is not cancer. The tumor does not spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. However, it may continue to grow and press on important structures in the skull.
People with small, slow-growing tumors may not need treatment.
Once hearing loss occurs, it does not return after surgery.
Call your health care provider if you experience new or worsening hearing loss, ringing in your ears, or vertigo (dizziness).
Vestibular schwannoma; Tumor - acoustic; Cerebellopontine angle tumor; Angle tumor
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Battista RA. Gamma knife radiosurgery for vestibular schwannoma. Otolaryngol Clin North Am. 2009;42:635-654.
Sweeney P, Yajnik S, Hartsell W, Bovis G, Venkatesan J. Stereotactic radiotherapy for vestibular schwannoma. Otolaryngol Clin North Am. 2009;42:655-663.
Conley GS, Hirsch BE. Stereotactic radiation treatment of vestibular schwannoma: indications, limitations, and outcomes. Curr Opin Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2010 Oct;18(5):351-6.
Reviewed by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine; Seth Schwartz, MD, MPH, Otolaryngologist, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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