Background: Under the definition "glomus tumors" are often erroneously enclosed neoplasms that are absolutely unlike for origin, location, and behavior. Glomus tumors (GTs) are small but extremely painful skin tumors of mesenchymal origin. GTs derive from the neuromyoarterial glomus in adults of middle-age and are generally benign. Due to their small size, diagnosis is often difficult and patients harboring these tumors usually consult many physicians, including sometimes neurosurgeons. More familiar to neurosurgeons are neoplasms as glomus jugular, glomus vagale, and glomus tympanicum that instead all belong to the family of paragangliomas (PGs) and for this reason should not be confused with the aforementioned skin tumors.
Method and results: Here we present a brief review of these two different classes of tumors and also the clarification of any misunderstanding that may derive from an improper use of the terminology. In order to illustrate why skin tumors may interest neurosurgeons, we have reviewed our institutional series of outpatient surgical procedures. Differential diagnosis with other tumors that appear as cutaneous nodules is also discussed. From January 2012 to May 2015, seven patients harboring a GT (six male and one female) were treated. The age ranged from 34 to 71 years (mean, 54.1). The clinical suspect of GT, was validated by ultrasound (US) and, if necessary, by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). All patients underwent surgery for total tumor removal. Immediate pain relief was obtained in all the patients, and no recurrences were observed during follow-up. Histology confirmed the diagnosis of GT.
Conclusions: Subcutaneous painful nodules, originating from the glomus body, are properly called GTs. Unlikely from other tumors, as schwannomas or neurofibromas, GTs are the cause of pain that is disproportionate to their tiny size and that is not associated to neurological disturbances. Surgical treatment allows a complete regression of pain with significant patient satisfaction. Neoplasms originating from neuroepithelial cells, on the contrary, should not be defined as GTs.
Keywords: Glomus tumor; Mesenchymal tumor; Pain; Paragangliomas.