New method allows ear tumor removal without removing piece of skull


Acoustic neuromas are non-cancerous tumors that can affect hearing and balance, and removal of the tumors requires part of the skull to be removed. Researchers in Texas, however, may have an easier method for their removal.

Doctors at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center have performed a non-invasive procedure to remove the tumors, so part of the skull around the ear does not have to be removed, suggesting the rare condition could be treated more easily.

Occurring in about 4 of every 100,000 people, acoustic neuromas are slow-growing benign tumors in the inner ear that affect the hearing and balance nerve and cause hearing loss and vertigo. Usually, they are monitored with periodic MRIs until they affect or are on the verge of affecting patients.

The standard treatment for a tumor that must be removed involves radiation, as well as the removal of a large piece of skull to allow doctors to find and remove the tumor. The procedure is lengthy, as is the recovery for patients afterward.

In the new procedure, doctors make an incision in the ear canal, using a camera attached to an endoscope to find the tumor and remove it.

One of the patients treated at UT Southwestern, Ana Placencia, experienced muffled hearing in her left ear — “I thought maybe it was just wax,” she said — and by the time she was diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma seven months later her ear had lost all function.

Placencia opted for the new surgery, over radiation or the traditional surgery, and was released from the hospital two days after the procedure — about half the time normally required.

Placencia’s surgery was successful, and she is expected not to experience too much pain or endure a long recovery, but doctors say research is needed on long-term results.