Renee Baio Diagnosed With Meningioma: Why Are Women More Affected By This Brain Tumor?

Scott Baio with his wife Renee. (Photo: Splash News/Nate Beckett)

Actor Scott Baio announced on Facebook earlier this week that his wife Renee has been diagnosed with a meningioma brain tumor.

“Although 90% of these type of tumors are benign, they can cause serious problems depending on the size of the tumor and the location,” he wrote. “We are waiting to learn the exact location to see if it’s operable.”

Baio added that he and his family hope their news will help encourage others to see a doctor if they suspect something is amiss, “as 6,500 people each year, mostly women, get these tumors.”

According to the Brain Science Foundation, 74 percent of patients who develop meningiomas are women, and most are between the ages of 40 and 70. Meningiomas represent about one-third of all primary brain tumors, and grow from the meninges, the thin layers of tissue covering the brain and spinal cord, according to the American Brain Tumor Association.

Meningiomas usually grow slowly and, while symptoms vary depending on where they’re located, recurrent headaches are the most common symptom, Gene Barnett, MD, director of the Burkhardt Brain Tumor and Neuro-Oncology Center at the Cleveland Clinic, tells Yahoo Health.Meningiomas can also cause seizures, personality changes, or problems with vision. However, Barnett notes, meningiomas can grow up to three inches around before a person experiences any symptoms.

Related: How Healthy Is Your Brain? Take This Test to Find Out

Renee told People that she has been suffering from migraines and cluster headaches for almost two years and that doctors initially told her it was because she’s over 40 and premenopausal. “Unfortunately, a lot of women are given this explanation and they need to get checked out,” she said. “An MRI did not pick up the tumor, but an MRI with contrast spotted it.“

But why do women account for such a large portion of meningioma patients? “We don’t know. That’s the real answer,” says Paul Brown, MD, a professor of radiation oncology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

However, doctors do know that two-thirds of meningiomas have a receptor for the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone, says Garni Barkhoudarian, MD, a neurosurgeon at Saint John’s Health Center’s Brain Tumor Center in Santa Monica, California.

“We’re not exactly sure why that’s the case, but as a result, women tend to get meningiomas more than men because they have these hormones circulating in their bodies,” he tells Yahoo Health.

Pregnancy may even accelerate the growth of meningiomas for women who already have the tumor, since pregnant women experience higher levels of progesterone in their bodies while carrying a baby, says Barnett.

Related: Is ‘Pregnancy Brain’ For Real?

What causes meningiomas in the first place? Barnett says they’re believed to be due to a genetic abnormality on chromosome 22, which is also linked to some forms of breast cancer. As a result, breast cancer patients are often at a greater risk of developing meningiomas. (Renee was diagnosed with early breast cancer in 2010 and has had several lumpectomies since then.)

While the main cause is genetics, Barkhoudarian says these tumors can also be caused by radiation to the head, which may include CAT scans and dental X-rays. However, he says the correlation between those types of scans and meningiomas is loose, adding, “It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get dental X-rays.”

Obesity can also increase a person’s risk of developing a meningioma, as well as if a person underwent radiation therapy as a child, says Brown.

Meningiomas are typically removed with surgery, since they will continue to grow if left untreated and may need follow-up radiation, says Barnett.

But Barkhoudarian stresses that patients are often expected to make a full recovery, depending on the location and type of the tumor. “This is often a very treatable condition,” he says. “Many people have meningiomas and it doesn’t necessarily define their lives.”

Hopefully the same is true for Renee Baio.

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