This article was last reviewed and updated on December 6, 2018
by Bibianna Purgina, MD FRCPC

Quick facts:

  • A neurofibroma is common non-cancerous tumour that develops from a nerve.

  • It can occur anywhere in the body.

  • Patients with the genetic syndrome Neurofibromatosis type 1 will often develop multiple neurofibromas.

Normal nerves

Nerves are like long wires made up of groups of cells called neurons. Nerves transmit information (such as temperature, pressure, and pain) between your brain and your body. Nerves are found throughout your body. Some nerves are very small (like those just under the surface of the skin) while other are very large (like those that go to muscles).


What is a neurofibroma?

Neurofibromas are a common tumour and can occur at any age and in any location in the body.  Patients with the genetic syndrome Neurofibromatosis type 1 will develop numerous neurofibromas all over their bodies. 


Patients with Neurofibromatosis type 1 are also at risk of developing a cancer (a malignant tumour) in one of their neurofibromas.  The most common cancer to develop in patients with Neurofibromatosis type 1 is a malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumour.


How do pathologists make this diagnosis? 

Under the microscope, neurofibromas are made of spindle cells that closely resemble the cells that make up a normal nerve.  These non-cancerous (benign) tumours are usually well-defined and are easy to remove by your surgeon. Because they are attached to a nerve, these tumours can cause symptoms such as pain or tingling.


There are several types of neurofibroma including:

  • Cutaneous neurofibroma – These tumours develop close to the skin.

  • Intraneural neurofibroma – These tumours develop on the inside of a nerve.

  • Diffuse neuorfibroma – These tumours tend to grow a little deeper into the fat just below the skin.

  • Plexiform neurofibroma – These tumours have an irregular shape and are often associated with neurofibromatosis type 1. 


A pathologist may make a diagnosis of neurofibroma after a small sample of the tumour is removed in a procedure called a biopsy. Or a pathologist may make the diagnosis of neurofibroma if it is removed completely at first, without a biopsy. 

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