Vestibular schwannomas in the modern era: epidemiology, treatment trends, and disparities in management

Clinical article

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There are a variety of treatment options for the management of vestibular schwannomas (VSs), including microsurgical resection, radiotherapy, and observation. Although the choice of treatment is dependent on various patient factors, physician bias has been shown to significantly affect treatment choice for VS. In this study the authors describe the current epidemiology of VS and treatment trends in the US in the modern era. They also illustrate patient and tumor characteristics and elucidate their effect on tumor management.


Patients diagnosed with VS were identified through the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results database, spanning the years 2004–2009. Age-adjusted incidence rates were calculated and adjusted using the 2000 US standard population. The chi-square and Student t-tests were used to evaluate differences between patient and tumor characteristics. Multivariate logistic regression was performed to determine the effects of various patient and tumor characteristics on the choice of tumor treatment.


A total of 6225 patients with VSs treated between 2004 and 2009 were identified. The overall incidence rate was 1.2 per 100,000 population per year. The median age of patients with VS was 55 years, with the majority of patients being Caucasian (83.16%). Of all patients, 3053 (49.04%) received surgery only, with 1466 (23.55%) receiving radiotherapy alone. Both surgery and radiation were only used in 123 patients (1.98%), with 1504 patients not undergoing any treatment (24.16%). Increasing age correlated with decreased use of surgery (OR 0.95, 95% CI 0.95–0.96; p < 0.0001), whereas increasing tumor size was associated with the increased use of surgery (OR 1.04, 95% CI 1.04–1.05; p < 0.0001). Older age was associated with an increased likelihood of conservative management (OR 1.04, 95% CI 1.04–1.05; p < 0.0001). Racial disparities were also seen, with African American patients being significantly less likely to receive surgical treatment compared with Caucasians (OR 0.50, 95% CI 0.35–0.70; p < 0.0001), despite having larger tumors at diagnosis.


The incidence of vestibular schwannomas in the US is 1.2 per 100,000 population per year. Although many studies have demonstrated improved outcomes with the use of radiotherapy for small- to medium-sized VSs, surgery is still the most commonly used treatment modality for these tumors. Racial disparities also exist in the treatment of VSs, with African American patients being half as likely to receive surgery and nearly twice as likely to have their VSs managed conservatively despite presenting with larger tumors. Further studies are needed to elucidate the reasons for treatment disparities and investigate the nationwide trend of resection for the treatment of small VSs.

Abbreviations used in this paper:SEER = Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results; VS = vestibular schwannoma.

Article Information

Address correspondence to: Cory Adamson, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., M.H.Sc., Division of Neurosurgery, DUMC 3807, Durham, North Carolina 27710. email:

Please include this information when citing this paper: published online February 22, 2013; DOI: 10.3171/2013.1.JNS121370.

© AANS, except where prohibited by US copyright law.



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    Graph showing decreased use of surgery and increased use of radiotherapy and observation for the management of VS.

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    Left: Preoperative Gd-enhanced MRI study demonstrating an avidly enhancing mass at the left cerebellopontine angle, suggesting a VS. Right: Postoperative MRI study demonstrating a so-called function-preserving approach, with a silhouette of residual tumor left along the facial nerve.



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