It's unlikely that singer Sheryl Crow's meningioma -- a tumor that occurs outside of the brain -- triggered her memory loss, a doctor said today.
In a recent interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the singer said that she'd found out about the tumor in November after going to the doctor to discuss memory problems.
"I worried about my memory so much that I went and got an MRI," she told the newspaper. "And I found out I have a brain tumor. And I was like, 'See? I knew there was something wrong.'"
It was just a month ago that Crow reportedly forgot the words to her song "Soak Up the Sun" during a concert in Florida.
But Dr. Michael Schulder, vice chairman of the department of neurosurgery at the Cushing Neuroscience Institute in New York, told ABC News today that Crow's commonly used treatment plan -- a series of MRI scans to follow the tumor's growth -- "suggests that it's not a very large tumor."
"The kind of symptoms she's describing [memory loss] that came and went. ... It seems unlikely they are the result of tumors unless she had a small seizure" that she was unaware of, Schulder said.
Schulder, who has not treated or examined Crow or seen her MRI, said that although meningiomas often do not cause any symptoms, headaches and seizures are commonly associated with the tumors. He said that tumors that caused memory loss and confused thinking tended to be larger and the symptoms persisted or worsened and might include personality changes as well.
"Either the tumor is bigger than everyone believes or it [the memory issue] was a coincidence or she had a seizure that she might not have known about," he said.
Meningiomas and Breast Cancer
Meningiomas grow from the lining of the brain and inside the skull. Although most of them are benign -- and almost never go beyond the head -- and are considered less severe than those occurring within the brain, 1 percent to 2 percent are malignant and tend to grow back despite surgery and radiation.
Schulder said about 10,000 people a year in the United States are diagnosed with a meningioma. Research has linked meningiomas with breast cancer, he said. Crow is a breast-cancer survivor.
"Women -- middle age or older -- are more likely to get them [meningiomas]," Schulder said. "Women are more likely to get breast cancer than men as well, although either diagnosis can occur in a man. ... There is an underlying hormonal association with the two kinds of tumors [but] it's not well understood."
He said that although most meningiomas could be treated with surgery, those that were connected to critical structures like optic nerves were usually left alone.
"It's a conversation that happens every day across the country," he said of whether to operate on a meningioma.
In May 2011, actress Mary Tyler Moore, 74, underwent elective surgery to remove a tumor from the protective lining around her brain.
At the time, Dr. Alan Cohen, chief of surgery at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland, who had not treated or examined Moore, said that surgery could be necessary for two reasons.
"First, to find out exactly what it is pathologically, and, second, to relieve pressure," he said.
According to Cohen, a large meningioma tumor could eventually become cancerous, but even if it remained benign, it could create pressure on the brain, resulting in vision or hearing loss, headaches, seizures or other problems.
Sheryl Crow's Brain Tumor: Operate or No?
Schulder said that not operating on the tumor meant that there was a chance it could grow. Depending on the tumor's size and location, continued growth could make later treatment more difficult and hazardous. He said the upside to not going the surgery route is that the tumor might grow so slowly or stop growing and the patient might not need treatment at all.
He said while surgery could remove a meningioma and could even cure a person, surgery alone posed a danger. Schulder said an "excellent" alternative treatment for patients is the noninvasive stereotactic radiosurgery, in which highly focused radiation beams treat small tumors during one or several sessions.
He said that nearly 95 percent of the time, "patients with meningiomas who receive [this treatment] have their tumor controlled."
Overall, Schulder said that women and men, including those diagnosed with breast cancer, should not be concerned. He said meningiomas were relatively rare tumors and those with breast cancer will have already been evaluated by their doctors.
Dr. Gene Barnett, director of the Cleveland Clinic's Brain Tumor and Neuro-Oncology Center, agreed, saying that even though the breast cancer-meningioma association was relatively well-known, "even then the risk of having meningioma is still very low."
"People who are 50 or older or women don't need to get MRI scans without the symptoms of a brain tumor," Schulder said. "Don't worry about that.
"A patient with breast cancer who's being followed by his or her doctor should trust the normal evaluation system. As long as they've been screened ... [they] should not long term be concerned or feel they should get MRI."