What is a meningioma, and how serious is it?

A friend was recently diagnosed as having a meningioma. She is middle-aged and obese. The surgeon said her surgery could last eight hours and might result in the loss of vision in her left eye. What is a meningioma, how serious is it?

Meningiomas are tumors arising from the meninges, the tissue layers that enclose the brain and spinal cord. They are almost always benign, that is to say they don’t metastasize (spread). But even benign tumors in the brain or spinal cord can do a lot of damage, and may be in a location from which they cannot be completely removed.

Meningiomas account for about 20 percent of all brain tumors, and are more common in women than in men. They are also quite common in a rare inherited condition called neurofibromatosis. They often produce no symptoms, and in some parts of the brain may grow to a very large size without being discovered. Many are first discovered at autopsy in people who have died of other causes. I have a good female friend who had a small seizure like trembling in one of her arms. X-rays and scans showed that she had a meningioma, quite large, near the part of the brain that controls the muscles in that arm. She had not had headaches. In fact, headaches are not usually the symptom that brings these people to the doctor. Her tumor was successfully removed, and she has had no recurrence.

From what she was told by her surgeon, I would guess that your friend’s meningioma is in a difficult spot to reach, meaning that the surgery will be long, and the meningioma may be near, or growing around the optic nerve. The optic nerve is at the base of the brain, an area where meningiomas are common. If it is necessary to remove the optic nerve to remove the tumor, it could leave your friend blind in that eye.

While nobody wants to have brain surgery and risk losing the vision in an eye, your friend should be reassured that these tumors are rarely malignant, and can often be completely removed, with no recurrences.

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