Singer Sheryl Crow’s Brain Tumor Diagnosis

Michael Schulder, MD

As reported in the news recently, singer Sheryl Crow has been diagnosed with a benign tumor called a meningioma, a tumor that occurs outside of the brain.  These tumors grow from the lining of the brain, inside the skull known as the dura mater, making them less severe of a problem than tumors that arise within the brain itself.  Moreover, most meningiomas are benign tumors, meaning they almost never spread outside of the head, and patients can be cured by surgery.  In the United States, about 10,000 people a year are diagnosed with a meningioma.

While most meningiomas can be treated with surgery, not all meningiomas can be removed safely.  If the tumor appears attached to critical structures such as the brainstem or optic nerves, in some cases it is much better for the surgeon to remove only as much of the tumor as can be done safely.  As meningiomas usually grow slowly, performing a “subtotal removal” may relieve a patient’s symptoms for many years.  An excellent alternative for many patients is to be treated with a non-invasive method called stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS).  This technique, invented 60 years ago, uses highly focused radiation beams to treat small tumors in one or several treatment sessions.  Nearly 95 percent of the time, patients with meningiomas who receive SRS will have their tumor controlled.

Additionally, not all meningiomas are benign.  A small percentage (1 to 2 percent) of these tumors are malignant; they tend to grow back even after surgery and radiation.  A larger fraction, maybe 30 percent, is deemed “atypical.”  These tumors have some tendency to re-grow despite surgical removal, although not in all cases.  For this reason, we still don’t know for sure if patients with “atypical” meningiomas need radiation therapy after the tumors are removed, although there is an increasing tendency to offer this treatment.

A final consideration is that many if not most meningiomas are diagnosed as “incidental findings” – in other words, they are found on an magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scan done for unrelated symptoms.  In such cases, it is often best to do nothing beyond getting follow-up MRI scans, and to reserve surgery only if the tumor clearly enlarges over time.  That is why most people with meningiomas never actually get surgery.  So the bottom line is, if you or your loved one has a meningioma, you have some very favorable options to consider. Full Post - to Detail View

Largest Study Shows No Link Between Cell Phones and Brain Tumors

Michael Schulder, MD

According to a recent study published in the British Medical Journal, there is no link between long-term use of mobile phones and brain tumors or tumors of the central nervous system.  One of the largest and longest studies of its kind, Danish researchers found no evidence that the risk of brain tumors was raised among approximately 360,000 cell phone subscribers over an 18-year period.

While this study may put us more at ease, there are still measures one can take to reduce any risk there might be by either not talking for long periods with the cell phone to the ear or by using an earpiece or speaker.  By using these methods, any risk of brain tumor formation from cell phone use can be essentially eliminated.

In reality, the biggest danger from cell phones may not be from brain cancer, but rather from using cell phones while driving.  The risks incurred with cell phone use while driving, whether it is texting, looking at emails, or even holding a phone to one’s ear, are much higher than any theoretical risk of getting a brain tumor.  Common sense and medical studies show this to be the case.


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Pediatric Cancer Survivors at Higher Risk of Certain Tumors as Adults

Jonathan Fish, MD

In a study that included nearly 18,000 children who had cancer, with follow-up of about 25 years, the greatest excess risk associated with a new tumor at older than age 40 years was for digestive and genital or urinary tract organs, according to the new issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Their risk is three- to six-fold what would typically be expected.

As children cured of cancer have survived and grown into adults, it has become clear that the cure is not the end of the journey. There are more than 350,000 survivors of childhood cancer in the US; more than two-thirds of them have a chronic illness caused by their treatment, and many have multiple medical problems. Second cancers caused by the radiation and chemotherapy used to treat the original disease are among the most serious concerns for childhood cancer survivors.

Understanding which second cancers happen, when they happen, and what treatment may have led to them are critical to designing and implementing targeted, risk-based screening programs for this high-risk population. This study contributes to this understanding.

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