What are the symptoms and treatment options for endolymphatic sac tumors?

Symptom Database

Endolymphatic sac tumors (ELST) are rare neoplasms that arise from the endolymphatic sac, a structure located in the inner ear. These tumors are also known as skull base tumors or temporal bone tumors, as they typically develop in the region of the skull base and temporal bone. ELSTs can cause a variety of symptoms, including hearing loss, vertigo, and tinnitus. In this article, we will explore the clinical presentation, diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment options for endolymphatic sac tumors.

Symptoms of Endolymphatic Sac Tumors

The symptoms of endolymphatic sac tumors can vary depending on the size and location of the tumor. Some common symptoms include:

  • Hearing loss: ELSTs can lead to progressive hearing loss, which may initially affect one ear but can eventually involve both ears. The hearing loss is often gradual and may be accompanied by a feeling of fullness in the affected ear.
  • Vertigo: Patients with ELSTs may experience episodes of vertigo, which is a spinning sensation that can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Vertigo attacks can be debilitating and significantly impact a person’s quality of life.
  • Tinnitus: Tinnitus refers to the perception of ringing, buzzing, or other sounds in the ears. ELSTs can cause tinnitus, which may be constant or intermittent.

Diagnosis of Endolymphatic Sac Tumors

Diagnosing endolymphatic sac tumors can be challenging due to their rarity and nonspecific symptoms. However, several diagnostic tests can help in the evaluation of suspected ELSTs:

  • Imaging studies: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is the preferred imaging modality for detecting and characterizing ELSTs. It can provide detailed information about the size, location, and extent of the tumor.
  • Histopathological examination: A biopsy or surgical resection of the tumor is often necessary to confirm the diagnosis of ELST. Histopathological examination of the tumor tissue can reveal characteristic features that differentiate it from other types of tumors.
  • Genetic testing: ELSTs are associated with a genetic mutation known as the von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) gene mutation. Genetic testing can help identify individuals with VHL syndrome, which predisposes them to the development of ELSTs.

Treatment Options for Endolymphatic Sac Tumors

The treatment of endolymphatic sac tumors typically involves a multidisciplinary approach, including surgery and radiation therapy. The choice of treatment depends on various factors, such as the size and location of the tumor, the extent of tumor growth, and the patient’s overall health.

Surgical Treatment

Surgery is the primary treatment modality for ELSTs. The goal of surgery is to remove the tumor while preserving hearing and other neurological functions. The surgical approach may vary depending on the tumor’s location and extent. Some surgical techniques used for ELSTs include:

  • Translabyrinthine approach: This approach involves removing the tumor through the inner ear, which provides excellent exposure but results in complete hearing loss.
  • Retrosigmoid approach: This approach involves accessing the tumor through a small opening in the skull behind the ear. It allows for tumor removal while preserving hearing in some cases.
  • Middle fossa approach: This approach involves accessing the tumor through an opening in the skull above the ear. It is suitable for small tumors located in the middle cranial fossa.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy may be used as an adjunct to surgery or as a primary treatment option for ELSTs. It involves the use of high-energy radiation to target and destroy cancer cells. Radiation therapy can be delivered using different techniques, such as:

  • External beam radiation therapy: This technique involves directing radiation beams from outside the body towards the tumor.
  • Stereotactic radiosurgery: This technique delivers a highly focused and precise dose of radiation to the tumor, minimizing damage to surrounding healthy tissues.

Prognosis for Endolymphatic Sac Tumors

The prognosis for endolymphatic sac tumors depends on various factors, including the tumor’s size, location, and extent, as well as the patient’s overall health. ELSTs are typically slow-growing tumors, and early detection and treatment can lead to better outcomes.

However, if left untreated or if the tumor recurs after treatment, ELSTs can cause significant morbidity and even mortality. The involvement of critical structures in the skull base, such as the facial nerve and the brainstem, can complicate the surgical management and affect the prognosis.


Endolymphatic sac tumors are rare neoplasms that can cause hearing loss, vertigo, and tinnitus. Prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment are crucial for improving outcomes in patients with ELSTs. Surgical resection and radiation therapy are the mainstay treatment options, and the choice of treatment depends on various factors. With advancements in diagnostic techniques and treatment modalities, the prognosis for ELSTs has improved, but long-term follow-up is necessary to monitor for tumor recurrence and manage any potential complications.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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