A schwannoma is a spinal tumor that arises from the lining of the nerve cells of the spine. The nerves of the spine are insulated by a protective sheath called myelin, which transmits nerve impulses throughout the body. Schwann cells create the myelin sheath of the nerves.
When a schwannoma tumor develops, it forms around the tissue of the myelin sheath. Most schwannomas are benign, only 2.5 percent are cancerous. However, when tumors grow large, they may compress the spinal nerves and cause symptoms such as tingling sensations, numbness, weakness, and pain in the lower limbs.
The doctor will conduct a physical exam and test the patient’s reflexes, muscle strength, and feelings of sensations on his or her skin. A biopsy may also be done to examine a section of the tumor under a microscope. CT scans, x-rays and MRI scans may also be performed.
Common schwannoma symptoms may include:
Surgery is the primary treatment for spinal schwannomas. UPMC neurosurgeons typically perform microsurgery to remove the tumor if the patient experiences symptoms such as weakness, numbness, or pain. Using a microscope and intraoperative electrophysiological monitoring, surgeons open the nerve and carefully remove the tumor.
For large tumors, radiation and chemotherapy may be used in conjunction with surgery. Spinal schwannomas may also be treated 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 no recovery time.