Women have much greater risk than men of developing meningioma, a type of tumor in the membrane lining the brain and spinal cord. The cases vary widely in severity of symptoms. Approximately 90 percent of meningiomas are benign; the remaining 10 percent are malignant (cancerous). Some of the benign tumors are small and cause no symptoms, so according to Mayo Clinic authors, no treatment is required. But the malignant ones are aggressive with high rates of illness and death. Treatments include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.
Overall, meningiomas occur twice as often in women as in men. This difference leads researchers to consider sex differences, such as estrogen levels, as a risk factor. A recent study of 350,000 women indicated that the risk of meningioma was about twice as high in those who used postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy. The group included 1,400 women who developed this type of tumor.
Breast cancer has a strong association with meningioma in women. So is there something other than being female that causes this? Men get breast cancer too, just not as commonly as women. A group of researchers at The University of Texas M D Anderson Cancer Center examined records from five state registries to see whether the association between meningioma and breast cancer also applies to men. This was not the case. Thus, whatever causes the correlation is specific to women.
Another possible connection was noted between lupus, which affects more women than men, and meningioma. Researchers in Italy identified three cases of women with meningioma in a group of 181 patients with systemic lupus erythematosus. These authors note that meningioma should be considered when lupus patients develop neuropsychiatric symptoms.
A group in Germany examined occupational risks for meningioma as well as other brain tumors (glioma and acoustic neuroma). They hypothesized that workers in the chemical, metal, agricultural, construction, electrical/electronic, and transportation industries could be at higher risk for brain tumors because of environmental factors. However, they found no increased incidence.
The Brain Science Foundation reports that at least 21,000 Americans are expected to be diagnosed with meningiomas this year. This organization created The Meningioma Project to increase awareness. See http://www.brainsciencefoundation.org/matriarch/default.asp.
1. More meningioma information online:
2. Bohan E et al, “It's not your 'run of the mill' meningioma: characteristics differentiating low-grade from high-grade meningeal tumors”, J Neurosci Nurs. 2009 Jun; 41(3): 124-8.
3. “Postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy and meningioma”, [no authors listed], Prescrire Int. 2010 Jun; 19(107):120.
4. Rao G et al, “The association of breast cancer and meningioma in men and women”, Neurosurgery. 2009 sep; 65(3): 483-9.
5. Castellino G et al, “Meningioma and systemic lupus erythematosus: a matter of pure coincidence?” Lupus. 2009 Jun; 18(7): 650-4.
6. Samkange-Zeeb F et al, “Occupation and risk of glioma, meningioma and acoustic neuroma: results from a German case-control study (interphone study group, Germany)”, Cancer Epidemiol. 2010 Feb; 34(1): 55-61.
Linda Fugate is a scientist and writer in Austin, Texas. She has a Ph.D. in Physics and an M.S. in Macromolecular Science and Engineering. Her background includes academic and industrial research in materials science. She currently writes song lyrics and health articles.