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A ganglioneuroma is an unusual and usually benign tumor found in the peripheral nervous system. These tumors are most commonly identified during an examination for an unrelated medical condition, although they do sometimes lead to symptoms, causing a doctor to identify them while seeking the cause of the symptoms. The standard treatment is surgery to remove the tumor if it is causing problems, along with monitoring in the future to check for signs of recurrence. If the tumor does recur, this can be a sign that it is malignant in nature.
These tumors arise in the autonomic nerve cells. Sometimes, they start producing hormones, causing symptoms like diarrhea, weight loss, and excessive hair growth as the body adapts to the excess hormone production. In other cases, they put pressure on surrounding anatomical structures, leading to symptoms like shortness of breath. The ganglioneuroma may be palpable on a physical exam, or it can be seen in a medical imaging study of the body, like an ultrasound or X-ray.
When a doctor identifies a ganglioneuroma and it appears to be causing problems for the patient, removal will be advised. In surgery, the tumor will be taken out and sent to a pathologist to confirm its nature and check for malignancy. Potential complications of surgery can include adverse reactions to anesthesia, infection at the surgical site, or damage to structures around the tumor caused during surgery. If the pathologist returns a clean result, the patient should be able to return to normal activity levels.
Usually, a ganglioneuroma is benign in nature. It should not grow back and once the tumor is removed, symptoms associated with it will resolve. The doctor may recommend a follow-up after surgery to check on healing, and future followups will be used to see if the growth is returning or if other structural changes are occurring around the site where the tumor was removed. In the event of any changes, a biopsy can be taken to see if malignant cells are growing at the site and other treatment options can be pursued.
Sometimes, patients can feel a ganglioneuroma because it is close to the surface or in a spot they would notice, like the nerves of the hand. A small swelling will develop, with a slightly rubbery texture, and manipulating the swelling might cause tingling or painful sensations. People who notice lumps under their skin should seek a medical evaluation to learn more about the nature of the lump and get treatment, if needed.