Neurofibromatosis is a genetic disorder that causes tumors to grow near your brain, spine, nerves, or other areas of the nervous system. Each type of neurofibromatosis has different signs and symptoms, affects people at different ages, and requires different treatments. Our nationally recognized experts treat children and adults with all forms of neurofibromatosis. Our comprehensive, specialty care is personalized to each individual’s specific needs with the goal of preserving function, managing pain, and addressing any complications that may arise.
Types of Neurofibromatosis
Neurofibromatosis Type 1 (NF1) is often diagnosed at birth or early childhood. The first signs may be light brown spots on the skin (called café au lait spots) or freckles in the armpit, or bone deformities. Later issues may include bumps on the iris (the color part of the eye) or under the skin (called neurofibromas), short stature, and tumors on the optic nerve. Children with NF1 may also experience migraines, learning disabilities, attention problems, and seizures.
Neurofibromatosis Type 2 (NF2) is less common and more likely to be diagnosed in early adulthood. Tumors almost always form along the nerves near the brain that are responsible for hearing and balance. These are called acoustic neuromas or vestibular schwannomas, types of skull base tumors that can cause hearing loss, balance problems, and facial weakness or paralysis. Other tumors can form in the brain and along the spine, causing headaches, sensory problems, and muscle weakness.
Schwannomatosis is rare and is usually diagnosed in young adults. Tumors can form along nerves near the brain, spine, and peripheral nerves and can cause debilitating pain. People with this type of neurofibromatosis require ongoing monitoring and treatments from multiple specialists.
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Treatment for Neurofibromatosis
Although neurofibromatosis has no cure, we offer the highest level of comprehensive, specialty care and patient education to reduce symptoms and improve your quality of life.
For people with NF1, doctors will track new and existing skin spots, physical growth, development, vision, and blood pressure. People with NF2 require ongoing monitoring to address hearing loss, balance concerns, facial nerve damage, vision problems, and pain caused by tumor growth.
Neurosurgeons, otologists and neurotologists (ear, nose, and throat doctors who have completed advanced training to treat ear disorders), radiation oncologists, neuro-oncologists, and others specialize in treating specific kinds of skull base tumors that affect people with neurofibromatosis. This includes benign and malignant tumors. Doctors may opt for observation to watch how quickly the tumor is growing, medication to try to shrink or stabilize the tumor, or surgery to remove the tumor entirely. Advanced surgical techniques help to preserve or restore hearing, including cochlear implantation.
Pain is often a serious concern for people with peripheral schwannomas (tumors on the nerves that transmit signals from your brain to the rest of your body) and other complications of neurofibromatosis. We offer pain management from pain specialists, and medications to treat severe nerve pain, when necessary.
Why Choose Duke
Nationally Recognized Care
Duke has been recognized as one of 50+ sites in the NF Clinic Network by the Children’s Tumor Foundation. We are also one of a small number of U.S. hospitals verified as a Level I children's surgery center by the American College of Surgeons. This Level I designation recognizes our commitment to providing the safest and highest-quality surgical care to our young patients.
A Team of Specialists
Our team includes experts in genetics, neurology, neurosurgery, plastic and reconstructive surgery, ophthalmology, oncology, and otolaryngology. You or your child may also receive therapy from learning disabilities specialists and physical therapists. For your convenience, we coordinate your care to take place during the same visit, in the same place, whenever possible.
We use advanced imaging to try to predict vision loss in patients with optic nerve tumors. Our rapid whole-body MRI can assess the entire body for tumors in a single scan, which can be helpful for monitoring tumor growth or assessing response to therapy.
Duke University Hospital is proud of our team and the exceptional care they provide. They are why we are once again recognized as the best hospital in North Carolina, and nationally ranked in 11 adult and 9 pediatric specialties by U.S. News & World Report for 2020–2021.