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Malignant schwannoma

Malignant schwannomas are also called malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumours (MPNSTs) or neurofibrosarcomas. 

Most schwannomas are benign tumours. 

What is a malignant schwannoma?

Malignant schwannomas are a rare type of cancerous tumour that are classed as a soft tissue sarcoma. Soft tissue is a term used to describe all the supporting tissues in the body, apart from the bones. So this includes muscle, nerves, tendons and deep skin tissue. 

In over half of all cases they are linked to a condition called Neurofibromatosis type 1. Most of the other cases of malignant schwannoma occur as a one off. 

Tests to diagnose malignant schwannoma

Your specialist will examine you and then you may need other tests which can include:

  • blood tests
  • ultrasound scan
  • MRI scan
  • CT scan
  • X-ray

Treatment of malignant schwannoma

These tumours can be difficult to treat. The main treatment is surgery, where the surgeon will try to remove as much of the tumour as possible and the surrounding tissue. 

Radiotherapy might also be used before or after surgery to try to shrink the tumour or to reduce the risk of it coming back.

Malignant schwannomas don't respond very well to chemotherapy. Chemotherapy may be used to try to shrink the tumour or to keep it at bay, but it is usually unlikely to cure it. 

As these tumours are so rare there is not a lot of information about them. However people who seem to do best with treatment tend to:

  • have tumours smaller than 5cm across
  • have had their tumours completely removed
  • be younger

Malignant schwannoma that comes back

Usually, a schwannoma coming back in the same place means that it wasn't completely removed the first time round. There may have been microscopic traces of it left behind. This is enough for it to grow into a new tumour. It might happen because your surgeon couldn't remove any more than they did, due to its size or position in the body. 

When this type of tumour comes back, it can be more difficult to treat. You might have surgery again if it is possible to remove the new tumour. You might be able to have radiotherapy again depending on the dose you had previosuly. 

Last reviewed: 
12 Oct 2017
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