Acoustic neuromas begin is tiny growths that develop into larger tumors, and thanks to advances in diagnostic technology, it’s now possible to detect them even when they’re only a few millimeters across. Generally, an acoustic neuroma is first detected during a routine auditory test, which measures hearing loss. If one ear suffers hearing loss and the other is normal, this is a warning sign for an acoustic neuroma and should be investigated with an MRI.
Optionally, a doctor may choose to use an auditory brainstem response test (also called ABR, BAER, or BSER), which measures the electrical connectivity of the brainstem to the inner ear. The presence of an acoustic neuroma can interfere with these electrical channels even before hearing is affected, so an abnormal result in an ABR may signify the presence of an acoustic neuroma. If an abnormal result is found, the patient should undergo an MRI. If an MRI isn’t feasible, a computerized tomography (CT) scan can be used as a substitute.
Early-stage symptoms of acoustic neuroma are easy to mistake for other conditions or overlook completely. Common early symptoms include loss of hearing in one ear, ringing in the ear (tinnitus), or a feeling of fullness in the ear. Often, these symptoms are attributed to aging or noise exposure in early life, which delays the diagnosis of many acoustic neuromas.
As the tumor grows, it presses on the balance portion of the eighth nerve, which can cause balance problems, unsteadiness, or vertigo (feeling like the room is spinning) in patients. Very large tumors can press on the trigeminal nerve, which causes numbness or tingling in the face, or even on the brain, which causes headaches. These more advanced symptoms can come with potentially fatal complications, so treatment should be sought immediately in these cases.
Acoustic neuroma vary greatly in size and severity, so different treatment options are appropriate for different patients. The treatment you and your doctor choose will depend on the size, placement, and growth rate of the acoustic neuroma, but there are three major options available.
In some cases, the first step of treatment is simply to watch the tumor and wait. This is often the case in older patients with a small acoustic neuroma. Acoustic neuromas are ultimately benign, and in many older patients the tumor won’t grow and thus won’t require treatment. Typically, this treatment course requires periodic MRIs to track the size of the tumor.
If the tumor does require active treatment, surgical removal is an option. There are three degrees of surgical removal, each appropriate in certain situations:
Outside of physical surgery, radiation therapy offers a highly effective treatment for acoustic neuroma. At Orange County CyberKnife, we’re proud to use one of the most advanced, effective radiation treatment systems in the world, and our team of experienced radiation oncologists, medical physicists, and other treatment professionals have helped countless patients through radiosurgery. In most cases, both hearing and facial nerve function are completely preserved and the tumor is eliminated in full.
CyberKnife is a revolutionary radiation therapy system that combines some of the most advanced technologies in cancer treatment to create a highly effective, extremely convenient treatment method for cancer and other growths. CyberKnife delivers a precisely calibrated, finely-measured dose of energy – the same kind found in visible light – to the tumor, and the rotating robotic arm of CyberKnife allows it to deliver radiation on all sides of the tumor. This dose of energy damages the cells of the tumor and stops them from replicating. Once the remaining cells of the tumor die, they’re eliminated naturally by the body.
CyberKnife treatments are usually given in small doses called fractions on a near-daily basis over the course of about 6 weeks. Follow up to CyberKnife treatment requires an MRI scan and an audiogram 6 months after the procedure, 1 year after the procedure, and annually for the next several years.
While many acoustic neuromas are benign, they can cause serious, sometimes life-threatening side effects and complications as they grow. At OC CyberKnife, we’re committed to helping our patients overcome their health conditions and lead a full, happy life. If you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed with cancer, acoustic neuroma, or any other condition, we are here to help you. Feel free to call us at 714.962.7100 with any questions or reach out to us at our contact page to schedule an appointment at our Orange County, CA cancer treatment facility.