For patients with acoustic neuroma, a benign tumor that develops on the balance nerve at the base of the skull, the waiting can be the hardest part.
While it’s estimated that only one in every 100,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with acoustic neuroma each year, the symptoms, which include loss of hearing in one ear, tinnitus (ringing sound) in one ear and dizziness or loss of balance, are quite common.
May 6-12 is Acoustic Neuroma Awareness Week recognized annually by the Acoustic Neuroma Association.
Most acoustic neuromas grow very slowly, if at all, and patients see their doctors to monitor the tumor to decide if and when intervention is needed.
For patient Henry Dekker, the symptoms were so subtle he paid them little attention. Dekker’s acoustic neuroma was diagnosed after a routine physical exam and MRI.
“I had some hearing loss in my left ear,” says Dekker. “But I’m a salesman and I drive with the window open a lot so I figured that was the reason. A tumor never came to mind.”
Dekker received a consultation from Hartford HealthCare Ayer Neuroscience Institute neurosurgeon Dr. Paul Schwartz who connected him with Dr. Marc Eisen, director of the Hartford Hospital Hearing and Balance Center. Dekker began seeing Dr. Eisen to monitor the growth of his tumor.
“Fifty percent of these types of tumors don’t grow and nearly 100 percent are benign. So what you end up doing is kind of stratifying the patient: is the tumor growing or is it not growing?” Dr. Eisen says. “If it’s not growing, although the patient will tend to lose more hearing, they can live with the tumor. If it’s growing, we like to intervene either surgically to remove the tumor or through radiation to slow the growth.”
After months of monitoring, Dekker’s tumor had grown to the point where intervention was recommended. Dekker opted to have the surgery rather than be treated with radiation. Dr. Eisen and Dr. Schwartz worked in tandem during the eight-hour surgery to successfully remove the tumor at Hartford Hospital.
Today, the 61-year-old Dekker is back on the road as a salesman, his hearing loss has stabilized and, despite some slight balance issues, he says he feels great. Dekker says he was impressed with the team at Hartford HealthCare, not only for their expertise and teamwork but also for their ability to help him cope with the fear and stress of facing brain surgery.
“When you’re going to have somebody [operating on] your head you want to really make sure you know what they’re doing,” Dekker laughs. “I really felt comfortable and confident with Dr. Schwartz and Dr. Eisen. I had the best possible outcome.”
To connect with the Hearing and Balance Center at Hartford Hospital, click here.