Peripheral nerve tumors are masses that grow on or near the network of nerves that connect the brain and spinal cord to other areas of the body. They can form in the peripheral nerve network anywhere in the body and affect the function of the nerve, causing pain and paralysis.
Peripheral nerve tumors can be cancerous (malignant peripheral nerve tumors) or noncancerous (benign peripheral nerve tumors). Individuals with certain conditions such as neurofibromatosis or schwannomatosis are more likely to develop peripheral nerve tumors.
Nerve tumors are divided into three major sections. They are:
- Neurofibroma: Noncancerous tumors which grow on nerves in the body. A common cause of neurofibromas is neurofibromatosis. Most common in individuals between the ages of 30 and 40.
- Schwannoma: Tumors that grow beside the peripheral nervous system in the body. A common cause of schwannoma is schwannomatosis.
- Malignant Peripheral Nerve Sheath Tumor: Aggressive, cancerous tumors that grow in the cells surround peripheral nerves. A common cause of nerve sheath tumors is neurofibromatosis Type 1.
Depending on the type of nerve tumor an individual is suffering from and their overall health condition, treatment options for peripheral nerve tumors typically involve surgical removal of the tumor itself to prevent further growth.
Signs and symptoms of peripheral nerve tumors include the following:
- Nerve pain
- A mass, or thickening in the muscle fibers
- Burning sensation
- Weakness in the affected muscles
- Loss of balance
Although the exact cause of peripheral nerve sheath tumors remains unknown, the two types of benign nerve tumors, schwannomas and neurofibromas, are considered to be caused by the conditions schwannomatosis and neurofibromatosis. They are both inherited conditions that can cause tumors to grow on nerves.
Factors that can increase the risk of peripheral nerve tumors include the following:
- Certain genetic conditions ( Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Tuberous sclerosis, Nevoid basal cell syndrome, Turcot syndrome)
- Radiation therapy from cancer treatment
Treatment options for peripheral nerve tumors generally focus on treating the tumor itself and preventing further health complications. Depending on the size of the tumor, its location, and how far it has spread, recovery can vary from person to person.
A few treatment options may include the following:
- Getting regular medical examinations to check for any abnormal changes and monitor them frequently if they occur.
- Getting imaging studies done to follow the tumor, its growth and whether or not the patient may require surgery.
- Taking pain medications such as ibuprofen or aspirin to help relieve symptoms.
- Surgery: A surgical procedure that involves the complete removal of the peripheral nerve tumor.
- Radiation therapy: A type of therapy that involves the use of powerful beams of energy (X-rays) to kill remaining cancer cells after surgery.
- Chemotherapy: A type of therapy that involves the use of anti-cancerous drugs to destroy cancer cells.
- Physical or occupational therapy: Types of therapy that use specific exercises designed to keep affected muscles and joints active and prevent stiffness.
- Immobilization: The process of wearing braces or splints to hold the affected limb, fingers, hand or foot in the appropriate position in order to improve muscle function.