Learn about these growths that form in or near nerves connecting to the spinal cord. Surgery is the most common treatment.
Peripheral nerve tumors are growths that form in or near nerves. Nerves are strands of tissue that transmit signals from the brain to the rest of the body. Peripheral nerves control muscles that allow you to walk, blink, swallow, pick things up and do other activities.
Peripheral nerve tumors can occur anywhere in the body. Most of them are benign, meaning they're not cancerous. But they can lead to pain, nerve damage and loss of function in the affected area.
Treatment usually involves surgery to remove the tumor. When the tumor can't be removed without damaging nearby healthy tissue and nerves, other treatments may be considered.
There are several types of peripheral nerve tumors. Intraneural tumors grow within nerves. Extraneural tumors press against nerves.
Benign tumors can occur in nerves, muscle and bone. This illustration shows a schwannoma of the tibial nerve in the leg.
The symptoms of a peripheral nerve tumor develop from direct effects on the main nerve or from the tumor pressing on nearby nerves, blood vessels or tissues. As the tumor grows, it may be more likely to cause symptoms, although tumor size doesn't always determine effects.
Symptoms of peripheral nerve tumors vary depending on where the tumors are located and the tissues affected. They include:
See your health care provider if you have any of the symptoms listed, especially if you have a lump that grows quickly.
It's not clear why most peripheral nerve tumors develop. Some are linked to known inherited syndromes, such as neurofibromatosis (types 1 and 2) and schwannomatosis. Others may be caused by changes in a gene.
The spinal cord is housed within the spinal canal, a hollow chamber within the vertebrae (spinal canal). It extends from the base of the skull to the lower back.
Peripheral nerve tumors are more common in people who have:
Peripheral nerve tumors can press against nerves. This can lead to complications. Some may be permanent:
To diagnose a peripheral nerve tumor, your health care provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history. You may undergo a general physical exam and a neurological exam. Several tests may help pinpoint the cause of your symptoms.
Peripheral nerve tumors aren't common. It's important to find a provider who is experienced in diagnosing and treating them. If needed, seek a second opinion.
Treatment of a peripheral nerve tumor depends on the type of tumor, what nerves and other tissues it affects, and symptoms. Treatment options may include:
Watching and waiting to see if the tumor grows may be an option if it's in a place that makes removal difficult. Or it may be an option if the tumor is small, slow growing, and causes few or no symptoms. You'll have regular checkups and may have MRI scans, CT scans or ultrasounds done every 6 to 12 months to see if the tumor is growing. If repeat scans show that the tumor is stable, then it may be monitored every several years.
Some peripheral nerve tumors are removed with surgery. The goal of surgery is to take out the entire tumor without damaging nearby healthy tissue and nerves. When that isn't possible, surgeons remove as much of the tumor as they can.
New methods and tools allow surgeons to reach tumors that are difficult to access. High-powered microscopes used in microsurgery make it easier to tell the difference between a tumor and healthy tissue. And the function of nerves can be monitored during surgery, which helps preserve healthy tissue.
Risks of surgery include nerve damage and disability. These risks are often based on the size of the tumor, where it's located and the approach used for surgery. Some tumors also grow back.
Stereotactic radiosurgery is used to treat some peripheral nerve tumors in or around the brain. Radiation is delivered precisely to a tumor without making an incision. One type of this kind of surgery is called Gamma Knife radiosurgery.
Risks of radiosurgery include weakness or numbness in the treated area. Or the tumor may continue to grow. Very rarely, the radiation could cause cancer in the treated area in the future.
Cancerous tumors are treated with standard cancer therapies. These include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Early diagnosis and treatment are the most important factors for a good outcome. Tumors may come back after treatment.
After surgery, you may need physical rehabilitation. Your health care provider may use a brace or a splint to keep your arm or leg in a position that helps you to heal. Physical therapists and occupational therapists can help you recover function and mobility lost due to nerve damage or limb amputation.
Surgeons carefully remove schwannomas while taking care to preserve nerve fascicles that aren't affected by the tumors. Nerve fascicles are bundles of nerve fibers.
It can be stressful to deal with the possibility of peripheral nerve tumor complications. Choosing which treatment would be best for you also can be a hard decision. These suggestions may help:
If your primary care provider thinks you have a peripheral nerve tumor, you'll be referred to a specialist. Specialists include doctors who are experts in disorders of the nervous system, called neurologists, and doctors trained in brain and nervous system surgery, called neurosurgeons.
Before the appointment, you might want to prepare a list of answers to the following questions:
Your doctor may ask some of the following questions: