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Mom's Brain Tumor Seems to Vanish After Giving Birth

Photograph by Twenty20

There are some pretty strange pregnancy symptoms that could send one down a Dr. Google frenzy and prove to be completely normal, but a California mom knew something wasn't right during her third pregnancy. Unlike her first two pregnancies, the 23-year-old started having severe headaches on the left side of her head, periodic blurry vision, nausea and vomiting. So, at 37 weeks, she went to Loma Linda University School of Medicine to see doctors, who would come to witness a happy ending they're still trying to make sense of.

According to a case report recently published in World Neurosurgery, the MRI revealed the woman had meningioma, which represents about one-third of all primary brain tumors and occurs most frequently in middle-aged women. They are often benign tumors and form in the meninges (membranes covering the brain and spinal cord). During this final month of pregnancy, the tumor was about the size of a grape.

They decided to wait until she delivered the baby to operate.

One month after the delivery, she was still having headaches but not blurred vision. Doctors decided to schedule a surgery for the following month because she still had significant swelling in her brain.

But right before the operation (about three months after she gave birth), they did another MRI, which showed the tumor had shrunk to the size of a sunflower seed—and the brain swelling was completely gone. They decided surgery was no longer needed.

Doctors are calling it the "Houdini tumor," as the tumor had seemingly vanished.

While meningiomas are a common type of brain tumor, there's little research on how pregnancy is related to or can affect the disease. It's not clear why the tumor suddenly shrunk after delivery.

Dr. Vikram Chakravarthy, lead author of the study, told Live Science that it's possible that there was a small growth on the woman's brain before she became pregnant. Pregnancy-related hormones might have increased the size of the tumor during pregnancy, and when the hormone levels dropped postpartum, that might have caused the tumor to shrink.

Unexpected recoveries from tumors have happened before. According to the BBC, a hospital in the U.K. also reported that doctors had found a tumor, this time malignant, between the rectum and uterus of a 35-year-old woman who had experienced long-lasting fertility problems. Before they decided to operate, she became pregnant and they decided to wait until she delivered the baby. Postpartum, doctors found the cancer had mysteriously vanished.

While there's still a lot that leaves doctors scratching their heads, there's one solid piece of advice we can glean from these cases: Make sure to re-test or re-image. You might just find something completely unexpected.

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