Sheryl Crow’s benign brain tumor: why breast cancer increases risk

Singer Sheryl Crow has a benign brain tumor—diagnosed on an MRI scan which she was prompted to have after forgetting song lyrics at a recent concert—but she’s not having the growth, called a meningioma, removed and her physician told her it’s not the cause of her memory lapse.

On Tuesday night she reassured fans on her Facebook page. “Please don’t worry about my ‘brain tumor’”, she posted, “it’s a non-cancerous growth. I know some folks can have problems with this kind of thing, but I want to assure everyone I’m OK.”

Crow’s publicist tried to minimize the singer’s condition by announcing that “half of us are walking around” with this type of tumor—which isn’t exactly accurate.

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In fact, research suggests they occur in about 1 in 1,000 of us, though they are more common in women who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, as Crow was six years ago. But Crow’s meningioma isn’t due to breast cancer cells spreading to her brain. Rather, it may be driven by the same reproductive hormones that also played a role in her breast cancer.

A quick literature search revealed more than 350 studies examining the connection between meningiomas and breast cancer. One published in the journal Surgical Oncology found that both meningiomas and the most common form of breast cancer are associated with an increase in estrogen and progesterone receptors on cells. They’re also both likely to strike women in their 50’s and 60’s. Crow is 50.

Other research has shown that women with meningiomas are 40 percent more likely to have breast cancer than those without and are 50 percent more likely to have endometriosis where the uterine lining grows outside the uterus causing pelvic pain.

While Crow’s meningioma isn’t growing in a region of her brain responsible for vital functions like speech, movement, or memory, other women aren’t so lucky and develop major impairments from these growth, necessitating surgical removal.

Sometimes, though, the tumors are inoperable or recur after surgery, but University of Michigan researchers reported about a case study in March on a woman with breast cancer whose meningioma regressed after she was treated with chemotherapy for the breast cancer. That might provide a new treatment option for those with tough-to-reach tumors since they typically don’t respond to chemotherapy agents used for brain cancer.

Several of the published studies detailed cases of breast cancer patients diagnosed with meningiomas that later turned out to contain breast cancer metastases. In a 1989 study from Dana Farber, researchers detailed 12 such cases.

Crow, however, told CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta that she had follow up MRI’s that showed her growth wasn’t getting rapidly larger, which makes the case for watchful waiting rather than surgery.