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Schwannoma

A schwannoma (sh-won-oma) is a tumour of the tissue that covers nerves, called the nerve sheath. These tumours develop from a type of cell called a Schwann cell, which gives them their name.

Schwannomas are often not cancerous (benign).

Vestibular schwannoma

These are non cancerous (benign) brain tumours.

Vestibular schwannomas start in Schwann cells. These are fatty cells on the outside of nerves. Usually, vestibular schwannomas start in the Schwann cells on the outside of the vestibulocochlear nerve. The vestibulocochlear nerve connects the brain to the ear. It controls hearing and balance.

Vestibular schwannomas are also called acoustic neuromas.

Malignant schwannoma

When schwannomas are cancerous they are called malignant schwannomas. They are also called malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumours (MPNSTs) or neurofibrosarcomas.

They can start anywhere in the body. But the most common area is the major nerve of the leg (the sciatic nerve).

Tests to diagnose schwannoma

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

  • blood tests
  • hearing tests
  • an ultrasound scan
  • a MRI scan
  • a CT scan
  • an x-ray

We have information on some of these tests in our tests and scans page.

Treatment of Schwannomas

Treatment depends on where the tumour is in your body and whether it is non cancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant). Your specialist may monitor you carefully at first rather than suggest treatment. They will see you regularly and monitor any symptoms you have. This is because the treatment can cause a lot of side effects.

Surgery

The main treatment for schwannoma is surgery to remove the tumour. The type of surgery you have depends on where in the body the tumour is.

Targeted radiotherapy

For small vestibular schwannomas, you may have stereotactic radiotherapy or radiosurgery. Both treatments target high doses of radiotherapy to the tumour.

You might have targeted radiotherapy alone, or after surgery if the surgeon was unable to completely remove the tumour.

Treatment for malignant schwannoma

You might also have radiotherapy and chemotherapy if you have a malignant tumour. 

Neurofibromatosis Type 2

Neurofibromatosis Type 2 (NF2) is a rare inherited condition which can make you more likely to develop vestibular schwannomas in both ears.

Symptoms can include:

  • hearing loss, that gradually gets worse over time
  • ringing or buzzing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • problems with balance

Neurofibromatosis Type 2 can also increase your risk of developing a tumour in the lining of the brain and spinal cord, called a meningioma.

Schwannomatosis

Another rarer condition associated with schwannomas is schwannomatosis. People with schwannomatosis develop multiple schwannomas on the nerves throughout the body, including in their:

  • heads
  • spine
  • limbs

Pain at the site of the tumour is common with schwannomatosis. People with schwannomatosis do not commonly develop the other tumour types seen in NF2 (such as meningioma).

Last reviewed: 
18 Mar 2020
Next review due: 
18 Mar 2023
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    A Kim and others.

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  • Neurofibromatosis: A review of NF1, NF2, and Schwannomatosis

    JL Kresak and M Walsh

    Journal of Pediatric Genetics, 2016. Volume 5, Number 2

  • Neurofibromatosis Type 2

    UpToDate, Last reviewed February 2020

  • Schwannomatosis

    UpToDate, Last Updated February 2020

  • Radiotherapy for vestibular schwannoma: Review of recent literature results

    G Apicella and others

    Reports of Practical Oncology and Radiotherapy, 2016. Volume 21, Issue 4

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