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Brain Cancer

Sheryl Crow's brain tumor: Can a meningioma be dangerous?

Sheryl Crow

Singer/songwriter Sheryl Crow performs for Starbucks shareholders at the coffee company's annual meeting in Seattle, Washington March 24, 2010. REUTERS/Robert Sorbo

Singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow announced Wednesday she has a benign brain tumor, though her representative told the public there’s no reason for alarm.

Crow, 50, who has famously forgotten her own song lyrics on multiple occasions, said she consulted doctors regarding her issues with memory loss.  The doctors conducted a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan and found the tumor.

The tumor, called a meningioma, accounts for approximately 15 percent of adult brain tumors and stems from the protective linings surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

According to one brain tumor expert, Crow’s meningioma could definitely account for her memory problems.

“Ms. Crow speaks about memory issues, and that is definitely the kind of symptom that could be caused by this type of tumor,” said Dr. Anders Cohen, chief of neurosurgery and spine surgery at The Brooklyn Hospital Center.  “Generally a tumor that affects memory would be located in the left frontal lobe of the brain.”

The symptoms of meningiomas vary by location, according to Cohen.  A patient with a meningioma in the back of his or her head (the region that controls vision), for example, may have visual impairment, while a patient with a meningioma in the motor region of the brain may have weakness on one side of the body.

Many times, however, a meningioma is asymptomatic, meaning it does not affect the patient’s life at all. Cohen stressed this type of tumor is typically little cause for concern, and the ‘vast majority’ of patients do extremely well with them after diagnosis.

“We find benign growths on a regular basis that never need a surgical procedure,” Cohen said.  “Every six months to a year, we have to patient come in for a scan to monitor them and make sure they’re not growing.”

As long as the tumor remains the same size and is not interfering with the patient’s overall quality of life, there is little reason to operate or use other treatments such as radiation.

“We can be more conservative with meningiomas because they usually stay put,” Cohen said. “We don’t want to perform unnecessary procedures unless the tumor is growing and there is pressure on the brain, or it’s creating symptoms.”

Unlike another type of benign brain tumor known as glioma, meningiomas rarely progress to the point where they become malignant.

“A meningioma almost always stays benign,” Cohen said.  Furthermore, he added, it’s very easy for doctors to distinguish a meningioma from a glioma – which is much more likely to become malignant – based on a simple brain scan.  Meningiomas grow from outside the brain inwards, while gliomas sprout inside the brain.

If the meningioma does begin to grow, doctors may intervene with surgery, or radiation if the tumor is in a hard to access area, and the prognosis is ‘excellent’ if the tumor is removed entirely.  Doctors make every effort possible to avoid using radiation in young patients because of potential adverse side effects in the future  - such as tumor reoccurrence.

However, while Crow did undergo radiation treatment for breast cancer in 2006, Cohen said it is highly unlikely this treatment led to her brain tumor.

“The radiation would have been focused to the breasts,” he explained.  “The location of the treatment would have been very specific to the millimeter.  So unless you radiated the brain, the radiation should not have contributed, and even if it did, it would have taken many, many years.  Fifteen to 20 years, at least – it would still be unlikely, but a bit more plausible.”

There are no risk factors for meningiomas, except for a few, very rare genetic exceptions, according to Cohen.

“The majority come for no apparent reasons,” Cohen said.  “If my father had a meningioma, I’d have the same chance of developing one as [anyone else].  There’s no higher risk if you drink too much Nutrisweet or talk on your cell phone.  There’s no correlation to family history, where you live, or your lifestyle that makes you more prone.

“But if you’re going to have a tumor in your head,” he added, “a meningioma is the best one to have.  The majority of patients to very, very well, regardless of whether they have surgery or not…This is one of the happier things that I do in brain surgery.”