Glomus tumors (also called paragangliomas) are a rare, slow-growing, and usually benign type of skull base tumor that often develop near the inner ear. Without treatment, they can harm surrounding tissue, damage nerves, and cause other serious problems. Duke’s skull base tumor experts collaborate to diagnose your tumor and offer a range of the most effective and advanced therapies available. Our goal is to treat the tumor while minimizing any injury to the surrounding structures.
About Glomus Tumors
One of the most common symptoms of glomus tumors is hearing your heartbeat in your ears, which doctors call pulsatile tinnitus. Other symptoms include hearing loss, voice changes, and problems with swallowing.
Glomus tumors can secrete chemicals called catecholamines that may increase your blood pressure and heart rate. This can cause a rapid heartbeat, dizziness, headache, and sweating.
Types of Glomus Tumors
The two main types of glomus tumors are:
- Glomus tympanicum, located in the middle ear. These are usually very small.
- Glomus jugulare, located in or near the jugular bulb. These are usually more complicated to treat.
Glomus tumors can also form in the neck and carotid arteries.
Duke Health offers locations throughout the Triangle. Find one near you.
In addition to a thorough physical exam, your doctor may recommend the following tests.
Blood tests can help determine whether your tumor is secreting catecholamines so your doctors can address related symptoms when recommending a treatment plan.
MRI or CT Imaging
Our skull base tumor experts will review your diagnostic scans performed elsewhere and contact you to discuss an effective treatment plan. Please call 919-372-3337, and our patient navigator will help make arrangements for your second opinion.
Glomus Tumor Surgery
Duke uses a team-based approach with subspecialized otolaryngologists (otologists/neurotologists) and neurosurgeons to determine whether surgery is your best treatment option. Their shared goal is to safely remove the tumor while minimizing injury to nearby nerves that affect your voice, swallowing function, facial function, hearing, and more. Among other factors, your surgical team considers:
- The size and location of your tumor
- Whether the tumor is compressing your brain
- Your symptoms, goals, and preferences
If your tumor is large, you may need an endovascular procedure a few days before surgery to embolize -- cut off the blood supply to -- the tumor. During this minimally invasive procedure, a surgeon makes a small incision and inserts a thin catheter into a major artery (usually in the groin). The catheter is threaded to the tumor site. Then, through the catheter, your surgeon uses tiny tools to block key blood vessels that feed the tumor.
Traditional Glomus Tumor Surgery
This complex operation requires surgeons to reroute a facial nerve to access and remove the tumor. As a result, you may experience temporary facial paralysis after surgery, and you may need a temporary tracheostomy and feeding tube due to some nerves being weak after surgery. Permanent facial paralysis is also a risk.
Facial Nerve Bridge Surgical Technique
To further minimize the risk of damaging the facial nerve, Duke surgeons use a special technique called the “fallopian bridge” or facial nerve bridge technique. With this approach, your surgeons leave the facial nerve in place and navigate around it, thereby reducing the risk of facial nerve weakness. This option may not be appropriate for everyone.
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 2021–2022.
Why Choose Duke
Experienced Doctors, Dedicated Skull Base Center
While glomus tumors are rare, our experts regularly treat patients with these and other skull base tumors. Because glomus tumors can grow near important facial structures, treating them requires the skill, expertise, and coordinated care that can only be found at an experienced and comprehensive skull base center like Duke’s.
Diverse Care Team Offers Tailored Treatment
Our team is diverse, so you benefit from the know-how of specialists in otology and neurotology, otolaryngology, neurosurgery, radiation oncology, and more. You are the most important member of your care team. We consider your goals and preferences to create a treatment plan that’s right for you.
Our team includes a range of providers who subspecialize in speech therapy and audiology, physical and occupational therapy, and balance problems. They can help treat the symptoms caused by your tumor. Duke also offers facial reanimation surgery for people who experience facial paralysis.
Patient Navigator Coordinates Your Care
A patient navigator helps guide you through your skull base tumor care. By helping schedule appointments, coordinating visits, and communicating your test results, they make your treatment journey easier by walking you through it step by step. And they are more than willing to answer all your questions along the way.