Musician Sheryl Crow announced on June 5 that she has a benign brain tumor known as a meningioma. Below, doctors from Dana-Farber’s Center for Neuro-Oncology describe this condition. The singer-songwriter, a breast cancer survivor, visited Dana-Farber in 2006.
Meningiomas are tumors on the surface of the brain, spinal cord, and fluid spaces. They are the most common type of brain tumor, with approximately 55,000 new cases diagnosed annually in the United States.
Although meningiomas can appear at any age, they are most common in older adults. They are also occur more often in women than men. This type of tumor grows in the membrane surrounding the brain or spinal cord, and rarely spreads to other organs.
There are three main types of meningiomas:
- Eighty percent are grade I and labeled benign (not cancer)
- Approximately 20 percent of are grade II and are referred to as atypical meningiomas
- One percent are grade III (cancer)
Meningiomas can be monitored without intervention. Those that are causing symptoms can often be safely removed with surgery. Unless they recur or are inoperable, most grade I meningiomas do not require radiation therapy or chemotherapy, and most patients have a normal life. In contrast, most grade II and III tumors grow more rapidly, and will require radiation therapy in addition to surgery. Chemotherapy usually offers limited benefit.
Most people with meningioma are diagnosed after noticing gradually worsening symptoms such as headache, while others can have seizures. Sometimes, meningiomas are discovered when a person has a head CT or brain MRI for unrelated reasons.
The cause of meningiomas remains unknown. Radiation therapy to the head or oral cavity has been linked with an increased risk of meningioma several years later. Head trauma and cell phone use have NOT been clearly linked with the development of these tumors. There is a modestly increased risk of meningioma among women with breast cancer compared to the general population, although the explanation for this link has not been clearly defined.
Recent laboratory efforts at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute led by Rameen Beroukhim, MD, PhD, have identified new genetic abnormalities associated with meningiomas. These discoveries may lead to better treatments for these tumors in the near future.