Can Brain Tumors Run in the Family?
Maria Menounos shared some scary news over the holiday weekend: She had surgery to remove a golf ball-sized brain tumor last month, at the same time that her mom Litsa is battling stage 4 brain cancer.
Menounos made the revelation in an interview with People. According to the 39-year-old TV and Sirius XM radio host, she first noticed something was off in February after she had been getting headaches and feeling lightheaded on set. “My speech had gotten slurred and I was having difficulty reading the teleprompter,” she said.
An MRI revealed that Menounos had a meningioma, a usually benign (meaning, non-cancerous) tumor that forms in the meningeal tissue of the brain, and it was pushing on her facial nerves.
“I didn’t cry. I actually laughed,” she said. “It’s so surreal and crazy and unbelievable that my mom has a brain tumor—and now I have one too?”
Menounos went to her mother’s neurosurgeon and eventually underwent a seven-hour surgery in which her doctor was able to remove 99.9 percent of the tumor, which was benign. “He said there’s a six to seven percent chance that we’ll see it come back,” she says. “But I’ll take those odds any day.” Menounos was in the hospital for six days and is now spending time with her mother, whose latest MRI shows that her brain cancer is stable. She says she still struggles with balance and her face is numb, but she’s getting back to normal.
On Monday, Menounos shared a smiling selfie with her mom on Instagram, thanking fans for the well-wishes. “I want you all to know that I’m OK! “ she captioned the photo. “Seriously I’m recovering well and should be as good as new very, very soon! Luckily I don’t need any further treatments but I can’t say the same about my mom. So please keep her in your prayers.”
She also thanked her doctor, internal medicine physician Ryan Aronin, M.D., on Twitter for taking her symptoms seriously. “Thank [you] for not making me feel like I was crazy to think I had a brain tumor,” she wrote.
It’s possible—but rare—for brain tumors to run in the family.
About five percent of brain tumors may be linked with genetic factors and conditions, Shaan M. Raza, M.D., an assistant professor of neurosurgery and head and neck surgery at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, tells SELF. But a “significant majority” of brain tumors aren’thereditary. When there is a family link, Dr. Raza says that a mutation in a gene may be passed through generations, which raises a person’s risk of having a tumor develop. Meaning, it’s possible to have brain tumors run in your family, but you never develop one.
That said, Menounos had a different type of brain tumor from her mother. Peter Forsyth, M.D., chair of the Department of Neuro-Oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center, tells SELF that he’s doubtful there is a genetic link in this case, especially since the tumors arise from different forms of tissue. “Since both kinds of tumors have little to nothing in common, it is very, very unlikely that they run in families,” he says, calling it an “unusual coincidence.”
Daniel Prevedello, M.D., a neurosurgeon with The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute, agrees. “The association of a grade 4 brain tumor with another family member with a benign meningioma is a coincidence,” he says.
Most doctors wouldn’t recommend an MRI to anyone with a family member who has a brain tumor—unless they’re experiencing symptoms.
If someone in your family has a brain tumor, there’s no reason to assume that you’re going to develop one, too. Santosh Kesari, M.D., Ph.D., neuro-oncologist and Chair of the Department of Translational Neuro-Oncology and Neurotherapeutics at the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells SELF that this isn’t very common. However, he says, if there are two or more members of your family who have had brain tumors, he recommends visiting a genetic counselor to be tested.
As for symptoms, Dr. Forsyth says they can be pretty non-specific. A person’s symptoms may vary depending on where the tumor is located, but changes in personality and memory, speech issues, difficulty understanding language, and imbalance can be signs of a brain tumor, he says.
Headaches can also be a sign of a brain tumor, but Dr. Kesari stresses that you shouldn’t assume a headache means you have a brain tumor, given how common they are. That said, there are a few headache symptoms that are worth checking out, including: headaches that get progressively worse over time, are different than usual, wake you up in the middle of the night, are worse in the morning, or are exacerbated by coughing or straining.
If you suspect that you have a brain tumor, Prevedello recommends talking to your primary care physician. She or he may recommend an MRI or a head CT scan to see what’s going on.