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EXPLAINER: What is schwannoma? Is it dangerous?

By Brooke Villanueva Published Mar 23, 2024 5:28 pm

Kristel Fulgar recently revealed she was diagnosed with schwannoma, a rare tumor that had to be taken out through surgery.

The local star, in her YouTube vlog, said that it started in 2022 when she felt a lump in her leg. The results at the time showed it was benign, though she needed to have it surgically removed a year later as it was growing, which increased its chance of getting malignant or cancerous.

Kristel opened up that it was the "hardest challenge" she has faced in her life so far as it also affected her mental health. "There were a lot of 'what ifs' and I cried every night to sleep," she shared.

The content creator had her operation in Korea and is now back in the Philippines to continue her recovery.

Kristel Fulgar opens up about getting surgical treatment for schwannoma in a vlog.

What you need to know about schwannoma

Dr. Ian Galapon, who specializes in pathology, told PhilSTAR L!fe that schwannoma is a "tumor of the nerves arising from schwann cells."

"These schwann cells are the ones that form the myelin sheath around the nerves to enhance the conduction of electrical impulses," he explained.

The National Cancer Institute said that it's a rare disease that affects not more than 200,000 people. Galapon, however, noted that it "equally affects both males and females at any age."

According to the pathologist, schwannoma presents as nodules. While it's commonly found in the limbs, Galapon said it "may occur anywhere in the body."

Per the NCI, some people with the condition exhibit symptoms, but others don't. These include hearing loss or ringing in the ears, dizziness and balance problems, pain, trouble swallowing, numbness or tingling, and muscle weakness.

In an interview with L!fe, Dr. Paul Julius Medina, who has a focus on surgical procedures, said the symptoms "largely depend on the location of the tumor and the function of the nerve involved."

Prevention and treatment

To this day, it's still not fully understood how schwannoma specifically develops in the body, "apart from the fact that the genetic alteration present in an individual primarily affects the schwann cells," Galapon said.

Since it occurs spontaneously, the pathology expert said it cannot be prevented.

"Some studies suggest genetic predisposition but still, there is no way of identifying who will have one," Medina added.

The tendency of it to get cancerous, however, is "very low" as schwannoma is considered a benign tumor "with indolent behavior."

"But there are exceedingly rare conditions of malignant transformation," said Galapon.

Per Medina, in certain areas, especially when occurring beside a bone, it can get "relatively aggressive and lead to a dissolution of the neighboring bone." It can also become "very painful" to the patient "as it would also mimic diseases like disc herniations."

"It could also become life-threatening when it overgrows in size enough to cause severe nerve tissue compression such as when it occurs in the brain and/or in the cervical segment of the spinal cord," the surgeon said.

Schwannoma can be diagnosed through a biopsy of the nodule, which is then examined under a microscope.

How is it treated? The best way to do so is through surgical excision, according to Galapon.

Medina said surgery becomes the management of choice especially "if it is observed to have significantly grown in size or if it is already causing neurological symptoms like weakness, numbness, and paralysis to the patient."

"Sometimes radiation therapy is also used to manage the disease," he continued.

"Once treated, it isn't likely to recur," Galapon added.