The Sheryl Crow Effect: Learning About Benign Brain Tumors

She’s calling it just “a bump in the road,” but the news this week that singer Sheryl Crow has a benign brain tumor shocked her fans.

It also made a lot of us wonder if, like Crow, those occasional memory lapses we suffer could indicate something more serious.

Crow, a breast cancer survivor who recently turned 50, said she initially thought that  she was forgetting things — like the lyrics to her hit song, “Soak Up The Sun” — because of age. “I’m 50, what can I say? My brain’s gone to (expletive), she joked.

But the mother of two decided to see a doctor anyway and have an MRI. She was diagnosed with a meningioma, a usually noncancerous tumor that grows in the meninges, or membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Henry Brem, M.D., chairman of the department of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, says the good news is that treatment of these tumors  has proven so effective,  “it’s one of the success stories of medicine.”

Most patients with meningiomas have them removed surgically; tumors that can’t be removed are treated with radiation to stop their growth, Brem explains.

What Crow’s celebrity status has done is spark a lot of interest in a tumor that’s rarely in the spotlight, says Jeffrey Raizer, M.D., director of neuro-oncology at Northwestern Univerity Feinberg School of Medicine.

We asked Raizer to give us a basic meningioma primer:

*Meningiomas are the most common type of brain tumor. For the most part, they don’t bother people. In fact, patients may not even realize they have one until they have an MRI for other unrelated reasons.

*About 85 percent of them are benign, although a small percentage are more aggressive and can come back after surgery, and a few can be fatal. They’re more common in women than men because the tumors often contain hormone receptors.

*Treatment is not always necessary — it depends on where in the brain the tumor is located, whether it’s growing, and what symptoms it produces. The biggest factor in location is whether the tumor can be removed. Those that are intertwined with nerves, arteries and veins can’t be easily removed and may need other treatment.

*The tumors can cause memory lapses, but that’s not the most common symptom. More commonly, meningiomas cause seizures, confusion, weakness or vision loss, depending on where they’re located and how big they’ve grown.

Photo credit: Kris Connor/Getty Images