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A meningioma is a tumor that grows in the protective lining of the brain and spinal cord, called the meninges. Most are benign, though in rare cases they can be cancerous (malignant). This type of tumor may not cause problems, but if it grows, it may put pressure on parts of the spine, causing symptoms such as pain, loss of sensation or motor function, and partial paralysis. The less common malignant meningiomas are faster growing and may grow in the surrounding tissue.
Meningiomas account for approximately 25 percent of spinal canal tumors. They can occur at any location along the spine, but most commonly appear in the mid-back (thoracic) region. They are about four times more common in women than men and usually appear between the ages of 40 and 70.
UPMC offers several treatment options for meningioma, including minimally invasive surgery and stereotactic radiosurgery, offering benefits such as minimal scarring, fewer side effects, and faster recovery.
The doctor will perform a physical exam and ask about symptoms. Symptoms of meningiomas are caused by pressure from the growing tumor on the surrounding tissue. Because these tumors can occur in a variety of places, symptoms vary, and tend to become more severe as the tumor grows in size.
Symptoms may include:
Imaging studies are usually used to diagnose meningiomas. Spinal x-rays can detect a meningioma, and CT scans and MRI scans are usually used to provide more detail about the tumor size, location, and effects on the surrounding tissue. An angiogram may also be used to allow doctors to view the blood vessels in the area of the tumor.
If a meningioma is small and does not cause symptoms, doctors may observe it over time rather than treating it immediately. Symptomatic meningiomas require some form of treatment. This could include surgery and/or radiation therapy depending upon the location of the tumor and symptoms.
Malignant meningiomas are surgically removed whenever possible, while benign meningiomas are removed if they are large and/or causing problems. The type of procedure depends on the size and location of the tumor. Several minimally invasive surgical options are available, offering benefits such as minimal scarring, fewer complications and side effects, and faster recovery.
If complementary treatments such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy are needed, those therapies can begin soon after minimally invasive surgery. UPMC neurosurgeons may also treat meningiomas with stereotactic spine radiosurgery, which is a minimally invasive technique that uses highly focused beams of radiation to target spinal tumors. The beams destroy the tissue that a surgeon would otherwise need to remove with a scalpel during a traditional operation. The precision of this surgery results in minimal damage to the healthy tissue surrounding the tumor, and a lower risk of side effects compared with traditional surgery.
Spine Radiosurgery: An Alternative Approach
Dr. Peter Gerszten discusses the advantages to spine radiosurgery treatment for patients.