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What Causes a Schwannoma?

written by: Rafael•edited by: Paul Arnold•updated: 6/7/2010

Schwannomas are tumors of the nervous system. Little is known about what causes a Schwannoma, but one idea is that frequent use of cell phones could be to blame.

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    What is a Schwannoma?

    According to the New York Medical Center web site, “Schwannomas are benign nerve sheath tumors." They are also characterized as tumors of the peripheral nervous system that start at the Schwann cells (schwann cells lay down the myelin sheath; myelin is the fat that surrounds the nerve conducts).

    These tumors are usually benign and rarely associated with malignant pathologies (fewer than 1% become malignant, degenerating into a form of cancer known as neurofibrosarcoma). However, since they are located in the nervous system they exert compression on nerve cells which causes pain, weakness, and numbness.

    Schwannoma tumors may occur near any nerve cell in the body, so symptoms may appear according to the location where they have developed. A patient with a schwannomma may be asymptomatic or may develop pain, weakness, tingling, and numbness. A mass in the neck or extremities may appear. Touching this mass may feel like receiving an electrical current.

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    What Causes a Schwannoma?

    The causes of this type of tumor are mainly unknown. However, the consensus among brain tumor specialists is that they may be caused by some hereditary defect. Schwannoma tumors usually appear in conjunction with a genetically inherited condition known as neurofibromatosis (NF) especially in those patients that have a specific type of NF (neurofibromatosis type II).

    Schwannomas are being subjected to a great deal of scrutiny by the medical profession and the general public because of reports that electromagnetic or radiofrequency radiation from cell phones may be a significant risk factor for people who develop a special type of schwannoma called vestibular schwannoma or acoustic aneuroma (essentially a schwannoma of the acoustic nerve).

    Data is inconclusive and much debate still exists. However, it has been proposed that a saturation level of these electromagnetic and radiofrequency radiations have been reached and may be causing many types of diseases including different types of brain tumors.

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    Are There any Treatment for Schwannomas?

    Surgery is the usual course of action to treat this kind of benign tumor. They usually do not recur so removing them surgically has been found to be efficient in 80 % to 90 % of cases. The surgical procedure is delicate. Essentially, the nerve needs to be opened and the tumor removed. This is done under general anesthesia and using microscopical instrumentation (microsurgery techniques). The nerve function is maintained since only a portion of the nerve is touched and the rest remains intact.

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    References:

    HURLEY L, SMITH J J, LARSEN C R, SILVERMAN M L : Multiple retro peritoneal schwannomas: case report and review of the literature. J Urol 1994 ; 151 : 413 - 416.

    Cell phones and brain tumors: a review including the long-term epidemiologic data

    Cell phones more dangerous than cigarettes!

    New York Medical Center Web site ;

    http: // www.med.nyu.edu/neurosurgery/pns/conditions/tumors / schwannomas . html