Maria Menounos’s Treated for Benign Brain Tumor

While caring for her mother, Litsa, who is battling stage 4 brain cancer, TV host Maria Menounos was confronted with her own health scare. In February, she began to experience unusual symptoms. As the 37-year-old E! host told People magazine:

“I’d been getting lightheaded on set and having headaches. My speech had gotten slurred and I was having difficulty reading the teleprompter.”

She told her mother’s doctor about her symptoms, and she was immediately sent for an MRI. The test revealed a golf-ball-size brain tumor, called a meningioma, that was pushing on her facial nerve. She recalled, “It’s so surreal and crazy and unbelievable that my mom has a brain tumor—and now I have one too?”

On her 38th birthday (June 8), Menounos underwent a complex, 7-hour surgery, at the hands of her mother’s renowned neurosurgeon, Dr. Keith L. Black, at Los Angeles’ Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Dr. Black was able to remove 99.9% of the tumor, which was confirmed as benign. Maria added:

“He said there’s a six to seven percent chance that we’ll see it come back. But I’ll take those odds any day.”

After a six day hospital stay, Menounos is home, spending time with her mother (whose cancer is currently stable) and fiancé Keven Undergaro, whom she got engaged to in March 2016 after almost 19 years of dating. “I don’t have my balance fully yet but as long as I’m holding on to Keven, I’m sturdy and fine,” Menounos says. “My face is still numb. This is something that takes at least a month of healing, but I’m getting stronger and stronger every day and I’ll be back to normal very soon.”

Despite the craziness of the past several months, Menounos sees the experience as a “blessing.”  It has brought her family closer together and made her reflect and reevaluate her life. She told People, “We’re caretakers as women and we put ourselves last. I tell people all the time if your car is making a weird noise, you take it to the mechanic. How come when our body is making weird noises, we ignore it? I’m so lucky that I went to the doctor and raised the alarm.”

As part of her life changes, Menounos plans to leave her E! News co-anchor position when her contract is up in August.

Meninges basics

The brain is covered by three layers of membrane, called the meninges. The outer layer which is closest to the inside of the skull, is a thick, fibrous membrane called the dura mater.

The delicate, spiderweb-like (hence the name) arachnoid membrane lies beneath the dura and surrounds the brain and spinal cord.

Unlike the third layer, the pia mater- which is in contact with the brain surface, the arachnoid membrane does not dip down into the folds of the brain, and is separated from the pia mater by the subarachnoid space.


What is a Meningioma?

A meningeal tumor, also called a meningioma, forms in the meninges .

It is the most common type of all primary brain and central nervous system (CNS) tumors. It can form from different types of brain or spinal cord cells.

A meningioma is most common in adults between the ages of 40 and 70. Meningiomas and other mesenchymal tumors  account for 34.4% of primary brain tumors. Approximately 96% of meningiomas occur within the skull, with the remaining 4% involving the spinal column.

According to the Brain Science Foundation, the prevalence of meningioma is estimated to be approximately 70.6 in 100,000 in the United States with over 206,856 individuals currently diagnosed with this tumor.

Types of Meningiomas

Types of meningeal tumors include the following:

Meningioma (grade I): A grade I meningioma is the most common type of meningeal tumor. A grade I meningioma is a slow-growing, benign tumor that forms most often in the dura mater. It is most common in women. Because of the slow growth of meningiomas, depending upon where it is located, a meningioma may reach a relatively large size before it causes symptoms.
Meningioma (grade II and III): This is a rare, malignant meningeal tumor. It grows quickly and is likely to spread within the brain and spinal cord. A grade III meningioma is most common in men.

The only known predisposing factors associated with meningiomas are exposure to radiation, and certain genetic disorders (e.g. neurofibromatosis).

Symptoms of a meningioma

Symptoms of a meningioma may include:

  • Morning headache or headache that goes away after vomiting.
  • Frequent nausea and vomiting.
  • Vision, hearing, and speech problems.
  • Loss of balance and trouble walking.
  • Weakness on one side of the body.
  • Unusual sleepiness or change in activity level.
  • Unusual changes in personality or behavior.
  • Seizures.

Treatment of meningiomas

Treatment of grade I meningiomas may include the following:

  • Active surveillance for tumors with no signs or symptoms.
  • Surgery to remove the tumor. Radiation therapy may also be given if tumor remains after surgery.
  • Stereotactic radiosurgery for tumors smaller than 3 centimeters.
  • Radiation therapy for tumors that cannot be removed by surgery.

Stereotactic radiosurgery is a form of radiation therapy that focuses high-power energy on a small area of the body. Despite its name, radiosurgery is a treatment, not a surgical procedure. Incisions (cuts) are not made on the body. Stereotactic radiosurgery works the same as all other forms of radiation treatment. It does not remove the tumor or lesion, but it distorts the DNA of the tumor cells. The cells then lose their ability to reproduce and retain fluids. The tumor reduction occurs at the rate of normal growth for the specific tumor cell.

Treatment of grade II and III meningiomas and hemangiopericytoma s may include the following:

  • Surgery and radiation therapy.
Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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