Meningioma – Most Common Brain Tumour

Overview

The membranes surrounding your brain and spinal cord are known as meninges. A tumour arising from meninges is termed as a meningioma. Although it does not involve the brain tissue itself, it is still considered a central nervous system (CNS) tumour as it affects the brain and surrounding structures e.g., nerves or vessels.

Meningioma is considered as the most common type of tumour that arises in the head or the spinal cord. It accounts for almost 33% of all brain and CNS tumours. Interestingly, meningiomas are usually asymptomatic i.e., they are non-problematic and present without any sign of illness. However, if they do develop into an aggressive tumour and irritate the surrounding nervous tissues, they can be a cause of serious disabilities. 

Meningiomas can occur at any age but are most often diagnosed at an older age. According to different sources, meningiomas are more prevalent in females, which surprisingly account for 74% of the cases of meningiomas. In the following article, we will highlight some signs and symptoms, diagnosing procedure, treatment, and preventive measures associated with meningiomas. 

Illustration of a meningioma, an aggressive tumour arising in the brain or spinal cord. Image by BruceBlaus

Signs and Symptoms

Most meningiomas grow slowly and therefore usually do not produce symptoms until at a late phase of the disease. Signs and symptoms associated with the brain or spinal cord may be present. Some of these symptoms are:

  • Blurry or dizzy vision 
  • Headaches – worse in the morning
  • Confusion
  • Hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing in the ear) 
  • Memory loss or disturbances 
  • Anosmia – loss of smell
  • Weakness or loss of proper motion in your arms or your legs
  • Difficulty in speaking or understanding spoken words

Some serious life-threatening symptoms may include:

  • Seizures – this happens when there is uncontrolled stimulation of the neurons in your brain
  • A sudden episode of blindness (usually one-sided)

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes

The exact cause of the development of meningiomas is not clear. However, as with other tumour growths, something alters the replication machinery of the cell leading to uncontrolled and unchecked multiplication of cells in the meninges – leading to a meningioma.

This excessive multiplication might be caused by an inherited gene, hormonal imbalance (which might be the reason for more women being affected), or exposure to carcinogens (cancer-causing substances e.g., radiations). 

Risk Factors

Some factors that might make you prone to this disease are:

  • Radiation therapy. Radiations of any sort are often carcinogenic. Radiation therapies to the head may induce the formation of a meningioma
  • Female hormones. As mentioned above, women are more likely to have meningiomas. This has suggested the correlation between the female hormonal chemistry and meningioma formation
  • Neurofibromatosis 2. This is a rare inherited nervous system disorder that is linked to an increased risk of meningiomas as well as other brain tumours
  • High BMI (obesity). Several large studies on obese people have shown the increased risk of developing meningiomas that obese people carry. High body mass index (BMI) is considered an established risk factor for several types of cancers, including meningiomas.

Diagnosis

Meningiomas are mostly diagnosed late after their actual onset. you being diagnosed with a meningioma will depend on your history and further radiological evaluations. 

if you present with symptoms associated with meningioma, your doctor might order a brain scan which is usually a CT scan (computerised tomography) or MRI scan (magnetic resonance imaging).

After assessing the location and size of the tumour, a biopsy might be performed. Biopsy refers to a procedure in which a small piece of your tissue is taken for microscopic and laboratory analysis. This allows doctors to decide the type of tumour and whether it is malignant (has potential to travel to other organs) or benign (no potential of travelling to other organs).

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan of a patient with meningioma in the left frontotemporal region. Image by Всеволод Лучанский

Treatment

Mostly, meningiomas stay symptomless i.e., they do not cause a lot of trouble. At this stage, regular monitoring is recommended. Brain scans at regular intervals would be done to see if the tumour is growing or not. 

However, if the tumour starts becoming problematic i.e., it continues to grow and cause symptoms, surgery may be carried out to remove the tumour. Radiation therapy is often prescribed before surgery to reduce the size of the tumour. This makes the surgery less invasive and hence less dangerous for the tumour surrounding tissues. 

Usually, a craniotomy would be performed by your surgeon in which a piece of your skull is cut to access the tumour and then replaced after resecting (cutting out) the tumour. 

Complications

The typical treatment for complicated meningioma is surgery and radiation. Both of these therapies come with several complications:

  • Concentration deficit – lack of concentration or difficulty in concentrating 
  • Loss of memory 
  • Seizures 
  • Weakness 
  • Personality changes 
  • Speaking or listening difficulties 
  • Vision disturbances

These complications occur due to the sensitive CNS tissue surrounding the tumour being damaged by radiation or during surgery. Your healthcare provider may recommend medications or follow-up visits to help you with these complications.

Prevention

There are no set guidelines for the prevention of cancer. However, you can opt for a healthy lifestyle that will help your tissue cells to grow and function properly. You can:

  • Eat whole foods
  • Sleep early at night 
  • Exercise regularly
References
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The content shared in the Health Literacy Hub website is provided for informational purposes only and it is not intended to replace advice, diagnosis, or treatment offered by qualified medical professionals in your State or Country. Readers are encouraged to confirm the information provided with other sources, and to seek the advice of a qualified medical practitioner with any question they may have regarding their health. The Health Literacy Hub is not liable for any direct or indirect consequence arising from the application of the material provided.

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