Actress and television host Maria Menounos, 39, revealed this month that she was diagnosed earlier this year with a golf ball-size “meningioma” brain tumor and underwent surgery to remove the benign growth.
Her revelation has focused attention on meningiomas. By far the most commonly diagnosed primary brain tumor, they occur more frequently in middle-aged women. Most tumors are benign and are not as large or as developed as the one diagnosed in Menounos, says Vitaly Siomin, M.D. , medical director of the Brain Tumor Program at Baptist Health Neuroscience Center .
“Oftentimes, we’ll see patients that are incidentally diagnosed with small meningiomas,” said Dr. Siomin. “We’ll follow them for years. Some of these tumors can be stable for a long time. After a few years, they may start growing. It can become a burden for patients who have to monitor the progression, sometimes for years.”
A sudden onset of symptoms, such as dizziness, severe headaches and even seizures, can lead to a serious diagnosis of meningioma, requiring surgery to remove the tumor, as in Menounos’ case.
Menounos (pictured above), the E! News anchor and Sirius XM radio host, said she started experiencing troubling symptoms in February. “I’d been getting lightheaded on set and having headaches,” she told People in the magazine’s exclusive story released last week. “My speech had gotten slurred, and I was having difficulty reading the teleprompter.”
Surgeons were able to remove nearly 100 percent of the tumor during a complicated seven-hour surgery, she told the magazine. Menounos, who resigned from E! News after the surgery, is optimistic about her recovery.
“There’s a six to seven percent chance that we’ll see it come back,” Menounos told People. “But I’ll take those odds any day.”
Despite being referred to as brain tumors, meningiomas do not grow out of brain tissue. They develop from the meninges, which are three thin layers of tissue covering the brain and spinal cord. These tumors are often located near the top and the outer curve of the brain. Tumors may also form at the base of the skull.
“In some patients, the tumors can stay unnoticed for many years, even though they might be growing,” Dr. Siomin said. “Whether treatment requires surgery or radiation depends on the location and size of the tumor, and its proximity to critical structures of the brain and spinal cord.”
Symptoms of Meningioma
Signs and symptoms of a meningioma can begin gradually and may be very subtle at first. Depending on where in the brain or spine the tumor is located, signs and symptoms may include:
- Headaches that worsen with time
- Changes in vision, such as seeing double or blurriness
- Weakness in the arms or legs
- Balance or walking problems
- Hearing loss or ringing in the ears
- Loss of smell
Dr. Siomin urges people who experience such symptoms to seek medical attention and not dismiss them as signs of aging.
“Someone might develop personality changes,” he explains. “They may not be as mentally sharp as they use to be. They can also develop problems walking. They may think it’s related to aging or dementia. Nonetheless, they should see a doctor and they may require a diagnostic imaging procedure to determine what’s wrong.”
Potential risk factors for a meningioma include:
Radiation. Treatment that involves radiation exposure to the head may increase the risk of a meningioma.
Female hormones. Meningiomas are more common in women, so female hormones may play a role, doctors say. Some studies have indicated a link between breast cancer and meningioma risk.
An inherited nervous system disorder. The rare disorder “neurofibromatosis type 2” increases the risk of meningioma and other brain tumors.
Obesity. A high BMI (body mass index) is an established risk factor for many cancers, and a higher prevalence of meningiomas among obese persons has been seen in large studies. But the link between obesity and meningiomas is not clear.