A meningioma is a benign (noncancerous) tumor that grows from the layers of cells that cover and protect the brain and spinal cord.
They occur in about 3% of people over age 60 and are three times more common in women than in men. They also are more common in those who have had radiation to the head or have a hereditary syndrome called neurofibromatosis type 2.
To clarify what is meningioma, it is a tumor that forms in the membranes (meninges) that cover the brain and spinal cord. These membranes contain a clear fluid called cerebrospinal fluid.
They most often develop near the top or outer curve of the brain, but they can also form at the base of the skull. As they grow, meningiomas press on the brain and cause symptoms such as headaches and nausea or vomiting.
These tumors can also irritate and injure nerves that transmit signals to the brain from the nose or eyes, causing loss of smell or vision problems.
Temporary accumulation of fluid in the brain (cerebral edema) is a common side effect after surgery for meningiomas, but it can usually be treated with medicine.
A brain or spinal cord MRI may be used to diagnose meningiomas and guide tissue biopsies during surgery to remove the tumor. A neuropathologist examines the tissue to determine its grade and whether it is benign or malignant.
Meningiomas can be difficult to diagnose because they often grow slowly and cause no symptoms until they’re large enough to affect other parts of the brain. But it’s important to get a diagnosis, especially if you’re concerned about your health.
Your doctor will do a neurological exam and an imaging test to look for signs of a meningioma. They may use a head CT scan or brain MRI with contrast to view the details of your brain and surrounding structures.
A brain biopsy (a sample of tissue cells) may be needed to confirm the diagnosis. Your doctor will determine the meningioma’s grade and discuss treatment options with you.
Most meningiomas are benign (not cancerous), but some are malignant. The grade of the tumor tells doctors how quickly it’s growing and whether it’s likely to recur after removal.
The treatment for meningioma depends on the tumor type and grade, its location in the brain or spine, and your overall health. Your doctor will help you decide which treatments are right for you and your family.
The most common treatment for meningioma is surgery to remove the tumor. The type of meningioma and its location determine how much can be removed safely during the surgery.
Radiation therapy may also be recommended after surgery to reduce the risk of recurrence of the tumor. This can be done using radiation therapy alone, or as part of a combination of surgery and radiation.
Chemotherapy is a treatment option for some meningiomas. It can be used to treat both benign (noncancerous) and malignant (cancerous) meningiomas.
The side effects of treatment for meningioma can be severe and long-lasting, including headaches, nausea, vomiting, and loss of smell (anosmia). Managing these symptoms is an important part of treatment. The goal is to relieve these symptoms and allow you to lead a normal life.
Meningiomas grow on the membranes that surround and protect your brain and spinal cord (figure 1). About 90% of meningiomas are benign. But they can also cause problems when they squeeze or compress nearby brain tissue, nerves or vessels.
Symptoms depend on the location and size of the tumor. A small tumor pressing on the optic nerve may lead to visual loss, but a large tumor growing in the convexity of the brain can cause headaches, nausea and memory problems.
Risk factors for meningioma include a genetic disorder called neurofibromatosis type 2 and previous head injury. Exposure to high doses of radiation can also increase the risk of meningioma.
The treatment for a meningioma depends on the size and location of the tumor. If it’s growing too close to critical nerves or blood vessels, your doctor may recommend observation, which can be done with brain scans and other tests. If it’s causing symptoms, surgery is often recommended.
Your physician can order regular head CT or brain MRI scans to monitor the growth of your meningioma. This can be useful if your tumor is small and growing slowly, or it’s not causing any symptoms at all.
A tumor in the base of your skull can be harder to remove because it’s near a vital artery or vein. Similarly, a tumor located in the top of your brain can be easier to remove if it’s not affecting your brain functions.