After a diagnosis of acoustic neuroma, a tumor that grows from the nerves responsible for balance and hearing, the treatment options are three: 1) remove the tumor surgically, 2) reduce or control the tumor with radiation, or 3) adopt a position of "watchful waiting."
Sometimes, the final option is the best one. This may also be the most difficult to accept.
"When a person is given a diagnosis of a brain tumor, a common response is to want to get rid of it as quickly as possible,” says Philip Theodosopoulos, MD. “But the acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor; it is rarely cancerous. And it grows slowly – an average of only 2 millimeters per year. So if it is causing relatively few symptoms and the patient still has some hearing, I often recommend that we simply keep an eye on it."
Question: Conventional wisdom suggests that early detection of small tumors results in easier treatment, with fewer side effects. So why wait for the tumor to grow?
Answer: If the tumor is small and the patient is older, the risks of treatment may outweigh the risks of doing nothing and just watching.
Observation of an acoustic neuroma involves an annual MRI scan. In 20 percent of observed patients, changes in symptoms or the tumor’s size indicate a need for surgery or radiation treatment.