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Nerve Sheath Tumors

Malignant Peripheral Nerve Sheath Tumor -- Credit: Copyright Nephron. GNU Free Documentation License

Malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor

The nerve sheath is the tissue that covers and protects the nerves. Nerve sheath tumors grow directly from the nerve itself. They usually develop randomly, but occasionally can be caused by a health condition or syndrome, such as neurofibromatosis (type 1 and type 2).

Nerve tumors are one of the following:

  1. Benign peripheral nerve sheath tumor (e.g., neurofibromas, schwannomas)
  2. Malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor (sarcoma)

Neurofibromas and schwannomas are non-cancerous and are the most common type of nerve tumor.

When to Remove a Nerve Tumor

Peripheral nerve tumors generally grow slowly and may be noticed as a lump somewhere in the body. They can interfere with normal activities, causing discomfort, tingling or even numbness,weakness and severe pain.

When these tumors become problematic, it is worthwhile to consider having them removed. Removal of these tumors can usually be performed without destroying the nerve. Usually the tumor can be resected out of the nerve itself without harming the nerve's function.

Cancerous Nerve Tumors

Peripheral nerve sheath tumors are rarely malignant (cancerous).

Cancerous peripheral nerve tumors are more problematic, painful and grow rapidly. If there is any question about whether or not a tumor is cancerous, it is important to get a needle biopsy or special study done to be sure.

If the tumor is believed to be cancerous, surgery is performed to remove all of the tumor, including a large portion of the nerve from which the tumor came. Nerve function, which may be lost with the removal of the tumor, can later be improved with the use of nerve transfers.

For information on treatment for tumors in the nervous system, see the Brain Tumor Center.