• Vol. 36 No. 4, 233–240
  • 15 April 2007

Extracranial Non-vestibular Head and Neck Schwannomas: A Ten-year Experience



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Introduction: We present a series of head and neck extracranial non-vestibular schwannomas treated during a ten-year period, assessing epidemiology, presenting signs and symptoms, location, nerve of origin, diagnostic modalities, treatment and clinical outcome. Materials and Methods: Clinical records of all patients with head and neck schwannomas treated at our department from April 1995 to July 2005 were retrospectively reviewed. Results: There was female predominance (67%). The mean age at diagnosis was 48 years. Sixteen (76%) presented with a unilateral neck mass. Eleven schwannomas (52%) were in the parapharyngeal space. The most common nerves of origin were the vagus and the cervical sympathetic chain. The tumour may masquerade as a cervical lymph node and other myriad conditions. Treatment for all but 2 cases was complete excision with nerve preservation. Two cases of facial schwannoma required sacrifice of the affected nerve portion with nerve reconstruction. All facial schwannoma patients suffered postoperative facial palsy with only partial resolution (mean final House-Brackman grade, 3.25/6). Among non-facial schwannoma patients, postoperative neural deficit occurred in 12 with partial to complete resolution in 7. The median follow-up period was 24 months. No schwannoma was malignant and none recurred. Conclusion: Non-vestibular extracranial head and neck schwannomas most frequently present as an innocuous longstanding unilateral parapharyngeal neck mass. Preoperative diagnosis may be aided by fine-needle cytology and magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomographic imaging. The mainstay of treatment is complete intracapsular excision preserving the nerve of origin, but for extensive tumour or facial schwannomas, subtotal resection or nerve sacrifice with reconstruction and rehabilitation are considerations. Surgery on intraparotid facial schwannomas carries considerable morbidity and conservative management has a place in treatment. Early recognition of facial schwannomas is key to optimal treatment.

Schwannomas, also known as neurilemmomas, neuromas, or neurinomas, are uncommon nerve sheath neoplasms that may originate from any peripheral, cranial or autonomic nerve of the body with the exception of the olfactory and optic nerve. Malignant change is unusual. Some 25% to 45%1 of schwannomas are located in the head, and these often present as diagnostic and management challenges.

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