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Benign Brain Tumors—More Common than You Think

July 05, 2011

Learn How Brain Tumors are Treated at Upcoming Health and Wellness Seminar

You may be surprised to know that benign brain tumors, those that are non-cancerous, are more common than expected. In fact, one in every five people will develop a benign brain tumor during their lifetime. The good news is that not all of these tumors grow, and many never cause any symptoms or problems.

"The more common types of benign brain tumors are meningiomas, acoustic neuromas and pituitary adenomas," explains neurosurgeon Sandeep Kunwar, M.D., co-medical director of the Gamma Knife Program at Washington Hospital’s Taylor McAdam Bell Neuroscience Institute. "In the past, doctors would watch these tumors and, if problems arose, they would remove them during an open surgical procedure."

"Today, we have the option of radiosurgery, which uses highly focused radiation to treat many benign tumors—as well as some malignant tumors—without damaging nearby healthy tissue. With the Gamma Knife, we avoid the need for anesthesia while minimizing the risk of infection and blood loss. Tumors up of up to 3 centimeters can be treated effectively."

Dr. Kunwar will talk about how brain tumors and other brain disorders are treated and the latest Gamma Knife technology at a free Health & Wellness seminar sponsored by Washington Hospital on Tuesday, July 12 from 1 to 2:30 p.m. The presentation will be held in the Conrad E. Anderson M.D., Auditoriums located at 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West) in Fremont. To reserve your spot, register online at www.whhs.com and look under Upcoming Seminars, or call (800) 963-7070.

Most common brain tumor

Nearly one-third of all tumors originating in the brain are called meningiomas. These masses get their name because they are located in the meninges, the membrane that surrounds and protects the outer surface of the brain and spinal cord.

Doctors have several options in treating meningiomas, depending on the patient and the type and location of the tumor. They
can monitor the tumor periodically with no other treatment, remove it surgically, treat it with radiation, or perform radiosurgery.

Radiosurgery is a minimally invasive procedure that can effectively treat many tumors, abnormalities and functional disorders of the brain, head and upper neck. Although called surgery, the procedure does not require an incision. Nevertheless, it can have the same precise result as open surgery with the added benefits of a minimally invasive procedure. Radiosurgery is virtually painless, and recovery is faster and easier with most patients returning to regular activities the next day. The Leksell Gamma Knife, which is used at Washington Hospital, is the gold standard for radiosurgical treatment of many brain tumors.

With radiosurgery, a meningioma or other benign tumor is not removed. Rather, the mass is converted into scar tissue and stops growing. This procedure has been very effective in treating many tumors with a greater chance that they will never grow back.

Early treatment can help avoid serious consequences

Acoustic neuromas are located on the main nerve leading from the inner ear to the brain. This type of benign tumor represents between 5 percent and 10 percent of all brain tumors found in adults. Acoustic neuromas are usually slow growing and symptoms, such as hearing loss or problems with balance, often appear gradually. When acoustic neuromas are detected early, treatment can help to avoid serious consequences, including total hearing loss. An acoustic neuroma can even be life threatening if it grows big enough to press on the patient’s brain stem.

Treatment options for acoustic neuromas include traditional open surgery or minimally invasive endoscopic microsurgery to remove the tumor, radiation therapy to slow or stop tumor growth, or radiosurgery.

"Medical opinion about treating acoustic neuromas has shifted lately," says Dr. Kunwar. "In the past, watchful waiting to monitor tumor growth was a viable option, but recent data shows that early treatment before the tumor grows can result in an improved outcome and a better chance of preserving a patient’s functional hearing."

Gamma Knife radiosurgery to treat an acoustic neuroma has proven to be an excellent alternative to surgery or radiation therapy. There is improved control of tumor growth, better preservation of hearing, and a lower chance of injury to the facial nerve, which can occur as a result of surgery.

"Data now shows that outcomes from radiosurgery to treat acoustic neuromas and meningiomas are superior to complete tumor removal," reports Dr. Kunwar.

Benefits of Gamma Knife Radiosurgery

Minimally invasive Gamma Knife radiosurgery is nearly painless and has no risk of infection when compared with conventional surgery. It is a particularly good option for high risk patients with condition like diabetes or hypertension. Most patients are able to return home on the day of treatment and resume normal activities the next day.

"One advantage of surgical removal of a tumor is that it eliminates pressure on the brain," comments Dr. Kunwar. "The bottom line is that, if the patient is experiencing a lot of pressure, traditional surgery is still recommended."

Learn More About Treating Brain Tumors

For more information about Washington Hospital’s Gamma Knife Program, go online to www.gammaknifeneurosurgery.com. To learn more about the Taylor McAdam Bell Neuroscience Institute at Washington Hospital, go to www.whhs.com.

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