Professional Reference articles are designed for health professionals to use. They are written by UK doctors and based on research evidence, UK and European Guidelines. You may find one of our health articles more useful.
Treatment of almost all medical conditions has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. NICE has issued rapid update guidelines in relation to many of these. This guidance is changing frequently. Please visit https://www.nice.org.uk/covid-19 to see if there is temporary guidance issued by NICE in relation to the management of this condition, which may vary from the information given below.
Synonyms: chemodectomas, nonchromaffin paragangliomas
These are rare, slow-growing, very vascular tumours of a group called paragangliomas. They are derived from glomera jugulare (or glomus bodies) which themselves are derived from neural tissue and arise within the jugular foramen of the temporal bone. They occur at such sites as the carotid body, the vagus nerve and the middle ear. Much more rarely, they may be found at other sites, including the periaortic area, trachea, larynx, mandible, nose, ciliary ganglion and Fallopian canal.
These tumours tend to be benign and slow-growing but they can be locally aggressive; this is important because of their proximity to the lower cranial nerves and to some major vascular structures. The tumours may also extend to involve the middle ear. Only about 4% metastasise. Metastases have been found in the lung, lymph nodes, liver, vertebrae, ribs and spleen. The base of the skull is eroded with extension to the mastoid and occipital bones. Between 2% and 4% of tumours produce catecholamines, noradrenaline (norepinephrine) or dopamine, resulting in a clinical picture similar to phaeochromocytoma with hypertension and tachycardia. Tumours may also produce somatostatin, vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP) and calcitonin.
Because of the insidious onset of symptoms, these tumours often go unnoticed and delay in diagnosis is frequent. They may therefore be very large at the time of diagnosis.
- The annual incidence is about 1 in 1.3 million people per year. However, it is the most common tumour of the middle ear and the second most common tumour of the temporal bone.
- They tend to present between 40 and 70 years of age (range: 6 months to 88 years).
- There is a female preponderance of between 3 and 6:1.
- It more commonly occurs on the left side; multicentric tumours are found in 3-10% of sporadic cases and in 25-50% of familial cases.
- The most common symptoms are deafness and a pulsatile tinnitus.
- There may be associated vertigo.
- Pain in the ear is uncommon.
- If the jugular foramen syndrome develops (paresis of cranial nerves IX to XI), there may also be complaints of hoarseness and symptoms associated with dysphagia.
- Less commonly, these tumours produce facial nerve palsy, hypoglossal nerve palsy or Horner's syndrome.
- Ataxia and brainstem symptoms may also develop.
- Headaches can occur as a result of intracranial extension.
- The hearing loss may be conductive or sensorineural.
- There may be otorrhoea, haemorrhage, bruit and the presence of a middle-ear mass: otoscopic examination reveals a characteristic, pulsatile, reddish-blue tumour behind the tympanic membrane but this may represent the tip of the iceberg of this tumour.
- If the jugular foramen syndrome develops, look for evidence of paresis of cranial nerves IX to XI. It is pathognomonic for this tumour but it usually follows a year after the initial symptoms of hearing loss and pulsatile tinnitus.
- Look for evidence of intracranial extension, manifested by signs associated with hydrocephalus and elevated intracranial pressure.
- Involvement of the dural sinuses mimics sinus thrombosis.
A small number of patients present primarily with a phaeochromocytoma-like picture - eg, perspiration, pallor, nausea, hypertension and tachycardia.
Other tumours that have been reported in association with glomus jugulare tumours are:
- Audiometry will show a mixture of sensorineural and conductive loss, the former more marked as the tumour expands.
- Plain skull X-rays may show evidence of the lesion with enlargement of the lateral jugular foramen and fossa.
- The best imaging technique is CT scanning combined with MRI with diethylenetriamine pentaacetate (DTPA) enhancement.
- Arteriography may be required before resection of large tumours.
- There should be screening for catecholamines.
The list is long and includes:
- Otitis media.
- Histiocytosis X.
- Primary or metastatic carcinoma.
The most commonly used classifications are Glasscock-Jackson and Fisch. The Fisch classification describes four stages of tumour development.
- A - tumour limited to the middle-ear cleft (glomus tympanicum).
- B - tumour limited to the tympanomastoid area with no infra-labyrinthine compartment involvement.
- C - tumour involving the infra-labyrinthine compartment of the temporal bone and extending into the petrous apex:
- C1 - tumour with limited involvement of the vertical portion of the carotid canal.
- C2 - tumour invading the vertical portion of the carotid canal.
- C3 - tumour invasion of the horizontal portion of the carotid canal.
- D - tumour with intracranial extension.
- D1 - tumour with an intracranial extension less than 2 cm in diameter.
- D2 - tumour with an intracranial extension greater than 2 cm in diameter.
- Surgical resection is the treatment of choice for young, otherwise healthy patients with functional cranial nerve deficits and is a relatively simple procedure in early tumours.
- Alpha- and beta-blockers may be required for some weeks before treatment if catecholamine production causes high and labile blood pressure. The surgical approach may depend on the Fisch stage of the tumour.
- Surgery becomes more complex and is better avoided in older and more frail patients, especially if there is significant extension.
- Large tumours that affect the lower cranial nerves present a high risk of postoperative complications, especially in older patients. Embolisation, radiotherapy, gamma knife radiosurgery and intratumoural injection of cyanoacrylate glue are other options.[9, 10]
- More recently, more conservative surgery has been combined with postoperative gamma knife radiosurgery which has enabled tissue diagnosis and improvement of symptoms without some of the serious complications of more extensive surgery.
- Genetic screening is appropriate for individuals with a positive family history.
Surgery can lead to damage of the cranial nerves. Other complications include bleeding, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leak, meningitis, uncontrollable hypotension/hypertension and tumour regrowth.Death can also occur.
- Glomus jugulare tumours tend to grow slowly with only a small proportion metastasising. The associated cranial nerve palsies tend to be more cosmetic than debilitating.
- The overall mortality rate is worse for patients treated with radiotherapy although radiotherapy patients are higher-risk patients at the outset.
- Even 20 years after treatment, the survival rate is 94% (77% of patients remain symptom-free).
- Depending on the study population, the overall five-year survival for metastatic paragangliomas is 35-60%.
Further reading and references
Pretorius PM, Milford CA; Investigating the hoarse voice. BMJ. 2008 Oct 8337:a1726. doi: 10.1136/bmj.a1726.
Ruben RJ; The history of the glomus tumors - nonchromaffim chemodectoma: a glimpse of biomedical Camelot. Acta Otolaryngol. 2007 Apr127(4):411-6.
Young WF Jr; Paragangliomas: clinical overview. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2006 Aug1073:21-9.
Miller JP, Semaan M, Einstein D, et al; Staged Gamma Knife radiosurgery after tailored surgical resection: a novel treatment paradigm for glomus jugulare tumors. Stereotact Funct Neurosurg. 200987(1):31-6. Epub 2009 Jan 28.
Isik AC, Erem C, Imamoglu M, et al; Familial paraganglioma. Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol. 2006 Jan263(1):23-31. Epub 2005 Nov 30.
Paragangliomas 1, PGL1 (Inherited Paraganglionic Tumours); Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM)
Leonetti JP, Anderson DE, Marzo SJ, et al; Facial paralysis associated with glomus jugulare tumors. Otol Neurotol. 2007 Jan28(1):104-6.
Offergeld C, Brase C, Yaremchuk S, et al; Head and neck paragangliomas: clinical and molecular genetic classification. Clinics (Sao Paulo). 201267 Suppl 1:19-28.
Jayashankar N, Sankhla S; Current perspectives in the management of glomus jugulare tumors. Neurol India. 2015 Jan-Feb63(1):83-90. doi: 10.4103/0028-3886.152661.
Semaan MT, Megerian CA; Current assessment and management of glomus tumors. Curr Opin Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2008 Oct16(5):420-6.
Krych AJ, Foote RL, Brown PD, et al; Current assessment and management of glomus tumors. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2006 Jul 1565(4):1063-6. Epub 2006 May 6.
Gottfried ON, Liu JK, Couldwell WT; Comparison of radiosurgery and conventional surgery for the treatment of glomus jugulare tumors. Neurosurg Focus. 2004 Aug 1517(2):E4.
Fayad JN, Schwartz MS, Brackmann DE; Treatment of recurrent and residual glomus jugulare tumors. Skull Base. 2009 Jan19(1):92-8. doi: 10.1055/s-0028-1103130.
Fliedner SM, Lehnert H, Pacak K; Metastatic paraganglioma. Semin Oncol. 2010 Dec37(6):627-37. doi: 10.1053/j.seminoncol.2010.10.017.