Tumors that form in the peripheral nerves can impact the way that your body functions in many different ways. Peripheral nerves help the brain and spinal cord communicate with the rest of your body, and an overgrowth of cells in these nerves can interfere with your ability to move your muscles and perform everyday tasks. Because your peripheral nerves are located throughout your body, you could be affected almost anywhere.
Fortunately, benign peripheral nerve tumors are not cancerous and will not spread, but they can grow within the nerve and cause nerve damage and other issues unless you receive medical treatment. Most benign peripheral nerve tumors have a genetic cause, so if others in your family are afflicted, you have a greater chance of having these tumors.
Peripheral nerve tumors usually aren’t noticeable until they grow to a size where they block nerve impulses that control movement. In some cases, however, the tumors may grow in a location where you may notice a bump or lump. When you touch or poke the lump, you may feel tingling in or near the area.
If you can’t see a lump develop, you may experience other symptoms like weakness, tingling and pain caused by compression of fibers inside the nerve. Some people also feel dizzy or have balance problems.
Benign (non-cancerous) peripheral nerve tumors are also known as nerve sheath tumors. A nerve sheath tumor is made up of the myelin (a fatty substance) that surrounds the nerve tissue. Benign peripheral nerve tumors are generally caused by a group of genetic conditions called neurofibromatosis.
Neurofibromatosis affects the development of tissue in the nervous system, and is usually discovered in childhood or early adulthood. It causes tumors to grow on nerves, in the brain and spinal cord, and sometimes produces skin and bone abnormalities. Some types of neurofibromatosis are life-threatening or cause a significant amount of pain. While many patients inherit neurofibromatosis, it is possible to develop it through spontaneous gene mutation.
There are two types of benign tumors associated with neurofibromatosis. Note that these tumors can be found in isolation in patients who do not have neurofibromatosis:
The typical benign sheath tumor. There are two types of neurofibromas: dermal (forming on the skin) and plexiform (which form internally and become large). Dermal neurofibroma will not become malignant, or cancerous. About 10% of plexiform neurofibroma transform and become malignant.
A benign sheath tumor made up of Schwann cells. Schwannomatosis can manifest with multiple tumors and other neurological symptoms.
Benign peripheral nerve tumors, although non-cancerous, may still cause complications and debilitating pain.
Benign peripheral nerve tumors don’t pose a health problem until they grow enough to compress the nerve and cause symptoms. Once your doctor confirms the presence of a peripheral nerve tumor, it may be enough to simply monitor its growth. This monitoring may include regular imaging to detect any increase in size.
However, once a tumor grows and begins to impact your movement or cause pain, it must be treated. Surgical removal is the most common method of removing these tumors.
As benign peripheral nerve tumors are generally caused by inherited neurofibromatosis, there is currently no way to prevent them.
Symptoms of neurofibromatosis-caused benign tumors are often mild, and for people with more severe cases, treatment options such as surgery, therapy, and pain medications are available. Healthcare providers recommend evaluating children and young adults with genetic relations to those with neurofibromatosis.
Additionally, it is important for people with neurofibromatosis to be tested regularly to ensure that benign tumors have not transformed and become malignant.