What is a meningioma?

A meningioma is the most common type of tumor that forms in your head. It is a tumor that grows on the tissues that surround your brain and spinal cord. A meningioma is classified as a brain tumor even though it doesn't grow on your actual brain. However, it can compress the brain and spinal cord depending on how it grows.

Meningiomas are non-cancerous, but they can cause problems as they grow. This type of tumor grows very slowly. You can go years without experiencing any symptoms from it. Some types of meningioma grow rapidly, but these are rare.

Causes of meningiomas

Physicians are unclear as to what causes a meningioma to form.

DNA in the tissues around the brain and spinal cord becomes damaged leading to abnormal cell growth. This may be due to genetics, changes in hormones or environmental factors, such as radiation exposure. Some people believe that cell phone use causes meningiomas. There is no evidence to back up this claim.

Risk factors for meningiomas

While the exact causes of meningiomas are unknown, some groups of people develop these tumors more often than others.

  • Prior radiation treatment — those who have radiation treatment that involves the head are at increased risk.
  • Gender — women are more likely to develop a meningioma than men; this is why doctors think that hormones may play a role in this disease.
  • Obesity — people who are obese also show an increased risk for developing this a meningioma.

Symptoms of meningiomas

The signs and symptoms of meningioma develop slowly and are symptoms that you see with other conditions. This makes them hard to detect at first.

If you have symptoms that get worse or just don't appear to get better with time, schedule an appointment with your doctor.

Common symptoms of meningioma include:

  • Memory loss
  • Weakness in your arms and legs
  • Headaches that get worse with time
  • Changes in vision, hearing and smell
  • Seizures, especially if you do not have a history of seizures

If you have a sudden onset of seizures or drastic changes in vision or memory, seek emergency medical care.

Diagnosis of meningiomas

Doctors diagnose a meningioma using an MRI. This allows them to get a clear view of your brain, spinal cord and surrounding tissues to see where the tumor is growing.

In some instances, they may also order a CT scan to see if the tumor has attached to the skull or has begun to calcify.

Treatment for meningiomas

The best course of action for treating a meningioma depends on the tumor's size and location, your overall health, how it affects your quality of life and a number of other factors.

In some instances, doctors may choose to just observe the tumor or treat it with medication. Because the tumors grow slowly and are non-cancerous, you may be able to avoid surgery or other stronger treatment options for a while.

Surgery is a common treatment option. If the tumor is near the surface and doesn't affect other structures, surgeons may be able to remove the tumor completely. In other instances, they may only remove a part of the tumor to relieve pressure and restore any loss of functions you experience.

Some meningiomas are deep within the brain tissues and some people are not healthy enough for surgery. In these instances, doctors may opt for radiation therapy to destroy the tumor cells.

Recovery from meningiomas

The outlook for meningioma treatment is good. Following the surgery, you can expect to remain in the hospital for two to three days while doctors monitor your condition.

Once you're stable, you will be sent home to recover. Some patients return to work in as few as two to four weeks, while others take up to three months to heal completely. Taking it easy and following the instructions given to you by your doctor can help speed your recovery.

Find a brain tumor doctor nearby

Mercy Health locations that can treat you