Meningioma: These tumors benign but still bad

Mary Tyler Moore was America’s sweetheart on her show. What will happen to our heroine as she faces a brain tumor?

MTM announced she has a meningioma, the most common type of primary brain tumor. The brain tumor comes from the meninges, which is the clear lining that surrounds the brain. I remember in anatomy class taking out a brain: it reminded me of sausage links– that clear skin covering. A theory is that a previous injury to the brain can cause a meningioma. So the tumor itself is benign (not cancer).

However, the problem with a meningioma is the location and size of the tumor. The tumor grows pretty darn slowly (like road construction). So most people with a meningioma walk around for years without knowing they have one. In one study, 2000 asymptomatic people had an MRI, and 18 of them (0.9%) were found to have a meningioma! Needless to say, a lot of the meningiomas are incidentally found from a brain CT or MRI ordered for some other reason.

My sister-in-law just got a VW Bug, and it barely fits in the garage: it clears the walls by one inch in the front and one inch by the garage door. The brain is pretty much the same in that there isn’t a lot of room in the skull. A growing meningioma can cause parts of the brain and nerves to be squished, which can cause a lot of problems.

Up to 40 percent of folks with meningioma have seizures prior to surgery. Headaches can occur, especially in the morning. A morning headache with nausea and vomiting is a classic symptom of a brain tumor. Because cluster headaches (a type of migraine) can do the same thing, an MRI of the brain might not be performed (plus, a lot of health insurance policies won’t cover a brain scan for migraines).

My physical chemistry professor was a goddess of intelligence. I heard my dynamic professor had been started on antidepressants but eventually was diagnosed with a meningioma after having acute stroke symptoms of weakness and numbness. Mental status changes from meningioma can change a Martha Stewart-like go-getter into Droopy the dog. Low energy, the urge to sleep like Rip Van Winkle, and loss of enjoyment of life can all be blamed on depression when the cause really is a meningioma.

If the meningioma grows toward the eyes, vision can be compromised. Interestingly, one third of people with vision loss don’t realize they have it! Holy blind bat, Batman!

If the meningioma causes an increase in pressure inside the head, a person can faint. Coughing, sneezing, and even pooping can increase the pressure in the head to cause lightheadedness.

Diagnosis is made by an MRI or CT scan of the head, and a neurosurgeon removes the tumor. If the tumor hasn’t caused irreversible damage to the brain, it's fully treatable.

I really hope Mary Tyler Moore has a full and speedy recovery. To continue her theme song, “Your gonna make it after all!”
Dr. Hook cracks a joke or two, but he's a respected physician with an interesting website, Email him with your questions.