What Is Von Recklinghausen’s Disease?
Von Recklinghausen’s disease (VRD) is a genetic disorder
characterized by the growth of tumors on the nerves. The disease can also
affect the skin and cause bone deformities. There are three forms of VRD:
- neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1)
- neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2)
- schwannomatosis, which is a variant of NF2
The most common form of VRD is NF1. This disease causes tumors
called neurofibromas in the tissues and organs of the body. According to the Dental Research
Journal, VRD is one of the most common genetic disorders and affects about 1
in 3,000 people.
VRD tumors can become cancerous, and management of this disease
focuses on monitoring the tumors for cancerous changes.
What Are the Symptoms of Von
VRD affects the skin and the peripheral nervous system. The first
symptoms usually appear in childhood and affect the skin.
Symptoms of VRD affecting the skin include the following:
- Café au lait macules are tan spots in different
sizes and shapes. They can be found in multiple places on the skin.
- Freckles can occur under the arms or in the
- Neurofibromas are tumors around or on peripheral
- Plexiform neurofibromas are tumors affecting the
Other signs and symptoms of VRD include the following
- Lisch nodules are growths affecting the iris of
- Pheochromocytoma is a tumor of the adrenal gland.
percent of these tumors are cancerous.
- Liver enlargement can occur.
- Glioma is a tumor of the optic nerve.
Bone involvement from VRD includes short stature, deformities of
bones, and scoliosis, or abnormal curvature, of the spine.
What Causes Von Recklinghausen’s Disease?
The cause of VRD is a genetic mutation. Mutations are changes in
your genes. The genes make up your DNA, which defines every physical aspect of
your body. In VRD, a mutation occurs on the neurofibromin gene, causing an
increase in the development of cancerous and noncancerous tumors.
While most cases of VRD are the result of a genetic mutation in
the neurofibromin gene, there are also acquired cases due to spontaneous
mutations. The Journal
of Medical Genetics notes that in about half of all cases, the mutation
appears spontaneously. This means no family member has the illness, and it’s
not inherited. The acquired disease can then pass forward to future
How Is Von Recklinghausen’s Disease Diagnosed?
Diagnosis depends on the presence of multiple symptoms. Your
doctor must rule out other diseases that can cause tumors. Your doctor will ask
you about a family history of the disease if you have the symptoms of VRD.
Illnesses that resemble VRD include the following:
LEOPARD syndrome is a genetic disorder with symptoms that
- brown spots on the skin
- widely spaced eyes
- a narrowing of the artery from the heart to the
- hearing loss
- a short stature
- abnormalities in the electrical signals that
control the heartbeat
Neurocutaneous melanosis is a genetic disorder that causes
pigment cell tumors in the layers of tissue that cover the brain and spinal
Schwannomatosis is a rare condition. It involves tumors in the
Watson syndrome is a genetic disorder that causes:
- Lisch nodules
- a short stature
- an abnormally large head
- a narrowing of the pulmonary artery
To check for the presence of cancer, your doctor may need to
remove the following for testing:
- internal tumors
- superficial tumors
- skin tissue samples
Your doctor may also look for neurofibromas inside your body
using MRI and CT scans.
How Is Von Recklinghausen’s Disease Treated?
VRD is a complex illness. Treatment must address many different organ
systems within the body. Childhood exams should look for signs of abnormal
development. Adults require regular screening for cancer caused by the tumors.
Treatment in childhood includes:
- evaluation for learning disabilities
- evaluation for attention-deficit hyperactivity
- orthopedic evaluation to treat scoliosis or
other treatable bone deformities
All patients should have yearly neurological exams and yearly eye
Tumors can be treated by several methods, including:
- laparoscopic removal of cancerous tumors
- surgery for removal of tumors affecting the
- radiation therapy
What Is the Long-Term Outlook?
VRD increases your risk for cancer. You should have tumors
checked regularly by your doctor. They will look for any changes that indicate cancer.
Early diagnosis of cancer leads to a better chance for remission.
People with VRD may have large tumors on the body. Removal of
visible tumors on the skin can help with self-esteem.
VRD is a genetic disease. If you have VRD, you can pass it to
your children. You should visit a genetic counselor before having children. A
genetic counselor can explain the odds of your child inheriting the disease.