An acoustic neuroma, also known as a vestibular schwannoma, is a rare benign brain tumor that originates from the outer sheath of the balance nerve.
A common symptom of an acoustic neuroma is single-sided hearing loss and/or ringing in your ear. However, other symptoms can be associated with this tumor include unsteadiness, dizziness, facial numbness or tingling. This complex tumor can often go undiagnosed for years as they typically grow at a slow rate of 1.5 mm annually. These tumors can have a significant impact on your quality of life and therefore understanding the diagnosis and treatment options is critical.
If you have been diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma, you probably have many questions about possible treatment options and where might be the best place to seek treatment. To get a better understanding of the best questions to ask an otolaryngologist and neurosurgeon, we reached out to Rick A. Friedman, MD, PhD, director of the USC Acoustic Neuroma Center at Keck Medicine of USC.
Dr. Friedman explained the following are the 5 most important questions you need to ask your doctor:
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1. “Are you a comprehensive center that provides all three forms of tumor management (observation, radiation and surgery) and all three surgical approaches?”
Dealing with an acoustic neuroma is such a delicate situation for otherwise healthy individuals. The reason you want to work with a comprehensive acoustic neuroma center is because they are able to address all aspects of your experience from the very beginning to well beyond treatment. At our center, we take the time to understand each individual situation and provide the treatment option that is best suited for the individual whether it be watch-and-wait, radiation or microsurgery. If surgery is indicated, we are able to expertly perform all three surgical approaches: middle fossa, retrosigmoid and translabyrinthine.
With a comprehensive center, you don’t just get access to surgeons: you get access to physical therapists, neuro-intensivists, neuro-anesthesiologists, neurologists, ophthalmologists, ICU nurses, physical therapists and audiologists with a high level of experience in understanding and treating the unique needs of acoustic neuroma patients.
2. “Is there a team approach with a board-certified neurotologist and neurosurgeon?”
The greater the commitment the hospital makes to you and the skillset of the team, the greater the outcome. A team approach is so important because you, as the patient, will have access to everyone on the team as they work together in a unified manner to work towards your recovery. By having a board certified neurosurgeon and neurotologist on staff, you can trust that the procedures at the facility of your choosing will be done with your best interest in mind.
3. “How many surgeries have you done in your career?”
By asking your surgical team, how many surgeries they have done in their career, you are able to gain insight into just how experienced they are in the field. When you go in for a surgery for something as serious and complex as an acoustic neuroma, you want to make sure that your surgeons have the experience and a track record of success that you can trust. Our surgical volume also translates to a high level of acoustic neuroma experience of our entire hospital and nursing staff that work these patients on a daily basis.
4. “Will I regain my lost hearing?”
Knowing what to expect is important. You may be going into surgery with the mindset that things will get better. However, surgery does not return lost function. It stops the damage and preserves the hearing at the same level at the time of diagnosis in select cases. In only a third of patients, the ringing gets better. Yet, preservation is better than complete loss of hearing. It is important to have a detailed conversation with your surgeon about expectations for hearing preservation and the best approach for your tumor size, location and shape.
5. “What is the recovery process like?”
Although there are similarities in recovery from acoustic neuroma surgery, each patient’s journey is unique. Many factors come into play like age, tumor size, pre-surgery level of hearing, pre-surgery activity level and so on. Having said, a patient who undergoes surgery for an acoustic neuroma tends to fatigue easier in the early post-operative period as they recover and compensate from the impact to the hearing and balance systems. Because of this, recovery requires some grit and determination. At the USC Acoustic Neuroma Center at Keck Medicine of USC, we help you psychologically and physiologically with early intervention. Beginning the day after surgery, you will be up and out of bed early with physical therapy. This will allow you to be discharged earlier and expedite the recovery process. Our patients then continue with postoperative physical therapy to more quickly get back on track with their daily routines in life. Most patients return to work in 6-8 weeks, but continue to see progress for months after surgery.
Following treatment, we remain in contact with our patients for life, if necessary, or as long as they need us! We have created a program with an infrastructure that supports multiple disciplines being involved in your care. We understand that there are many questions that come up in the post-treatment phase and we have a team available to make sure that all questions are answered and needs are addressed.
About Keck Medicine of USC
At the USC Acoustic Neuroma Center at Keck Medicine of USC, we are nationally ranked number one in volume and surgical outcomes. We also have the shortest average hospital stays in the nation. Our level of experience allows us to significantly minimize operative times while providing clinically excellent outcomes.
When you choose the USC Acoustic Neuroma Center, you choose a team with both your physical and mental well-being in mind. Upon first contact with us, our patient navigator connects with you to provide emotional support and to carefully plan your treatment whether you live down the street or across the globe! She is an experienced former patient who will be able share details of what to expect throughout the process. If surgery is indicated, she assists with all of the logistics of your treatment to reduce the stress and anxiety associated with preparing for surgery.
If you have been diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma, make an appointment with an experienced care team and take the time to research and understand the options for your specific case.
To learn more about USC Acoustic Neuroma Center, visit acousticneuroma.keckmedicine.org for a free record review.
To schedule an appointment, call (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit http://acousticneuroma.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment/