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Vestibular Schwannoma

(Acoustic Neuroma; Acoustic Neurinoma; Eighth Nerve Tumor)

By

Lawrence R. Lustig

, MD, Columbia University Medical Center and New York Presbyterian Hospital

Last full review/revision Jun 2021| Content last modified Jun 2021
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A vestibular schwannoma (also known as an acoustic neuroma) is a noncancerous (benign) tumor that originates in the cells that wrap around the vestibular nerve (Schwann cells).

These tumors arise from the vestibular (balance) nerve, which is one branch of the vestibulocochlear nerve (8th cranial nerve). The other branch, the cochlear (auditory) nerve, carries sound signals to the brain. Early symptoms as the tumor grows and presses on the auditory nerve include slowly progressing hearing loss in one ear (hence the historical name acoustic neuroma).

Symptoms of Vestibular Schwannoma

Early symptoms of vestibular schwannoma include

  • Slowly progressing hearing loss in one ear

  • Noise or ringing in the ear (tinnitus)

  • Headache

  • Feeling of pressure or fullness in the ear

  • Ear pain

  • Imbalance or unsteadiness when the person turns quickly

If the tumor grows larger and compresses other parts of the brain, such as the facial nerve (7th cranial nerve) or the trigeminal nerve (5th cranial nerve), weakness (facial droop) or pain and numbness of the face may result.

Diagnosis of Vestibular Schwannoma

  • Hearing tests

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

Early diagnosis of vestibular schwannoma is based on a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan and hearing tests. An audiogram (hearing test) is done first. People who have hearing loss in only one ear should then have imaging tests, such as an MRI.

Other hearing tests that may be done include tympanometry (tests how well sound can pass through the eardrum and middle ear) and auditory brain stem response testing (measures nerve impulses in the brain stem resulting from sound signals in the ears).

Treatment of Vestibular Schwannoma

  • Sometimes surgery or radiation therapy

Tumors that are small and not growing or causing symptoms do not require treatment. Tumors that begin growing or cause symptoms are removed with surgery or controlled using radiation therapy. Surgery may be done using a microscope (microsurgery) to avoid damaging the facial nerve, and hearing can sometimes be saved. Radiation therapy may be done using a very precise technique (called stereotactic radiation therapy) so that only the tumor is affected. Whether surgery or stereotactic radiation therapy is done depends on a number of factors including the person's age, health, amount of hearing loss, and size of the tumor.

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Test your knowledge

Acoustic Neuroma
An acoustic neuroma, also called a vestibular schwannoma, is a noncancerous (benign) tumor originating in the cells that wrap around the nerve involved in. Which of the following is NOT an early symptom of an acoustic neuroma?
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