Maria Menounos, Greek-American journalist, actress, TV host, and (at one time) professional wrestler, announced over Independence Day weekend that she had surgery to remove a brain tumor the size of a golf ball. The tumor itself struck her as less of a surprise and more of an example of irony in light of the fact that her mother, Litsa, currently battles stage-four brain cancer.
Menounos released this information to the public during an interview with People magazine. She claimed to have first noticed a problem in February because she had these recurring headaches and pangs of lightheadedness while working on set. “My speech had gotten slurred and I was having difficulty reading the teleprompter,” Menounos explained. She had an MRI, and the scan revealed a meningioma, which is typically a benign tumor that builds up in the brain’s meningeal tissue. The tumor was apparently pressing on facial nerves, however.
“I didn’t cry. I actually laughed,” said Menounos. “It’s so surreal and crazy and unbelievable that my mom has a brain tumor—and now I have one too?” She saw her mother’s neurosurgeon and underwent the process of dealing with next steps, which eventually led to surgery. The surgery lasted for seven hours, and the surgeon was able to get rid of 99.9 percent of the tumor. “He said there’s a six to seven percent chance that we’ll see it come back,” Menounos said. “But I’ll take those odds any day.”
Menounos spent six days in the hospital, and she has since transitioned her recuperation to be with her mother whose brain cancer remains persistent based on the most recent MRI scans. Menounos says balance is still difficult to navigate, and her face remains numb; nevertheless, she feels normalcy returning. She posted a fun-loving, smiling selfie of her and her mom on Instagram the following Monday, and she thanked her fans for well-wishes.
Brain tumors have been a study for many years for a variety of reasons because, aside from the necessity to figure out how best to treat them for the sake of patients, researchers as well as physicians note that they hold the potential to teach the scientific community a great deal about heredity. It is rare that tumors run in the family, but for some time, scientists have known that it is, indeed, hereditary. According to Dr. Shaan M. Raza, a neurosurgery assistant professor at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, brain tumors may have correlations with all sorts of genetic factors.
Raza says that the mutation of a gene when there is a family history of such an occurrence can make its way through the generations, and in those cases, the risk of tumor development increases. Likewise, though, it’s also possible for brain tumors to run in the family and for an individual to never develop one.
Dr. Daniel Prevedello is a neurosurgeon at the Comprehensive Cancer Center of Ohio State Univeristy. He elucidated Menounos’s situation: “The association of a grade 4 brain tumor with another family member with a benign meningioma is a coincidence.” Peter Forsyth chairs the Moffitt Cancer Center Department of Neuro-Oncology, and he concurred that there isn’t likely a genetic link in this case, given the tumors of Menounos and her mother arose from different types of tissue altogether. He said, “Since both kinds of tumors have little to nothing in common, it is very, very unlikely that they run in families.”
This means that there’s almost no reason to presume that one would develop a tumor simply because a family member did. Neuro-oncologist Santosh Kesari in Santa Monica chairs the Department of Translational Neuro-Oncology and Neurotherapeutics at the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center. He said that Menounos’s situation is a very uncommon occurrence, so her reaction to the odds was appropriate. He does recommend, though, that people see a genetic counselor in the event that two family members develop brain tumors simply because of the unlikely probability of that happening in the first place.
According to Forsyth, people’s symptoms can vary to such an extent that it becomes quite difficult for a person to simply guess that they have a brain tumor. They’re unlikely to recognize any symptoms from someone else as their own due to the range of possible symptoms that could afflict them. There are symptoms, though, that one should be able to identify as possible tumor symptoms simply because they correlate with tumor emergence more frequently than others. Examples might be Menounos’s slurred speech, memory lapses, personality shifts, linguistic impairment (whether speaking or understanding) or a lack of physical equilibrium.
Headaches are an example of the many symptoms that essentially tell you nothing. Granted, headaches can be caused by tumors, but they are so commonly associated with innumerable other ailments that to guess one has a tumor is to irrationally jump to conclusions. Some headache symptoms, however, get gradually worse and even wake people from their sleep; at which point, it can be safely surmised that, at the very least, it is not an ordinary headache.