These tumors grow from the meninges, the layers of tissue covering the brain and spinal cord. As they grow, meningiomas compress adjacent brain tissue. Symptoms are often related to this compression of brain tissue, which can also affect cranial nerves and blood vessels. In some cases, meningioma growth can also extend into the bones of the head and face, which may produce visible changes. Most meningiomas are considered nonmalignant or low grade tumors. However, unlike nonmalignant tumors elsewhere in the body, some of these brain tumors can cause disability and may sometimes be life threatening. In many cases, meningiomas grow slowly. Other meningiomas grow more rapidly or have sudden growth spurts. There is no way to predict the rate of growth of a meningioma or to know for certain how long a specific tumor was growing before diagnosis. Meningiomas are graded from low to high. The lower the grade, the lower the risk of recurrence and aggressive growth.
The WHO classification divides meningiomas into three grades:
Grade I: Benign Meningioma
Grade II: Atypical Meningioma
Grade III: Malignant (Anaplastic) Meningioma
- May arise after previous treatment from ionizing radiation or excessive x-ray exposure
- Common among women and men in their 40s-50s, but can occur at any age
- Twice as common in women as in men
- Accounts for 34 percent of all primary brain tumors
- In very rare cases, can invade the skull or metastasize to the skin or lungs
- Women with meningiomas can experience tumor growth during pregnancy
- In rare cases, multiple meningiomas can develop at the same time in different parts of the brain and/or spinal cord
- Nausea and vomiting
- Vision changes
- Behavioral and cognitive changes
- Sometimes no symptoms occur and tumor is detected incidentally
If there are no symptoms, the doctor may monitor the tumor with MRIs. Otherwise, surgery is the standard treatment. If the tumor cannot be completely resected or if it recurs, radiation therapy may be given as well. Chemotherapy for unresectable, aggressive, atypical, or recurrent meningiomas is being tested through clinical trials. Follow-up scans are needed indefinitely, because meningiomas can recur years or even decades after treatment.
Learn more about other tumor types.
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