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A. Schwannoma
B. Neurofibroma
Illustrations from Surgery of the Peripheral Nerve by Mackinnon and Dellon, reprinted with permission of Thieme Medical Publishers, Inc.

Nerve sheath tumors grow from the nerve itself and generally are benign (non-cancerous). Neurofibromas and Schwannomas are the most common forms of nerve sheath tumors. Tumors can occur in isolation or as part of a syndrome, such as neurofibromatosis.

Tumors can grow from any nerve in the body. Once they start to cause pain or other problems, it may be good to remove them.

Removal of tumors often can be performed without causing paralysis in the nerve. Surgery to remove a schwannoma is the least complicated and to remove a neurofibroma slightly more complex.

The operation becomes significantly more difficult when surgeons remove malignant tumors or plexiform neurofibromas, which are thick, irregular and can entwine supportive structures. With either of these tumors, the surgeon may need to remove the nerve. If this occurs, nerve transfers or grafting can be used to restore function.

For patients with neurofibromatosis or other syndromes, it's typical for doctors to recommend periodic MRI or PET scans to make sure the tumors aren't becoming malignant. About 1 percent of these tumors become cancerous.

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