Paragangliomas, sometimes called glomus tumors, are uncommon tumors that grow along the course of nerves and blood vessels in the neck and base of the skull. They may develop on vessels and nerves that are high in the neck in the area of the undersurface of the skull. They may even extend into the skull, adjacent to the brain.
The most common cervical paraganglioma develops on the main artery of the neck, the carotid artery. The mean age for patients suffering from a paraganglioma on the carotid is 45 to 50 years of age and the incidence rate is higher among women than men.
Typically benign, paragangliomas are slow growing and usually have a large amount of blood flowing through them. In some cases, patients present with multiple tumors. In ten percent of cases, these tumors are malignant and spread to lymph nodes in the neck.
Paraganglioma tumors usually cause symptoms when they grow large enough to put pressure on surrounding structures such as nerves. Common symptoms include numbness of the face, pain in the face or tongue, ringing in the ear (tinnitus), hoarseness, and difficulty swallowing. Other symptoms include headache, high blood pressure, palpitations, sweating, and anxiety.
The most notable risk factor for paragangliomas is a family history of the condition. Approximately 20 percent of carotid paragangliomas are familial.
While most paragangliomas are benign, their location, size, or growth may make treatment necessary. While it would be preferable to treat them surgically, this can be made more difficult by the fact that paragangliomas usually have a large blood supply. When this is the case, the tumor can be treated through endovascular methods by placing a catheter into the blood vessels supplying the tumor and injecting various materials to block off the blood supply to the tumor. This procedure, called embolization, is often done within a few days of an impending surgery.