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Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 4, 2023.

What is Neurofibromatosis?

Harvard Health Publishing

Neurofibromatosis (NF) is nervous system disease that causes skin defects and tumors on nerve tissues. It can also lead to other problems. The condition usually worsens over time. Although there is no known cure, treatment can help control symptoms.

The nerve tissue tumors begin in cells that protect nerves. These tumors can vary in size and occur anywhere in the body, including the skin, inner ear, brain, and spinal cord. Most are not cancerous, although some may turn cancerous over time.

The most common type of tumor is called a neurofibroma. This is a noncancerous growth that usually develops on or under the skin. The other common type of tumor is called a Schwannoma. These growths form in cells that help insulate nerves.

NF is a genetic disorder. Genetic disorders are caused by changes (mutations) in genes. They usually run in families.


There different types of NF. The signs and symptoms differ depending on the type.

Neurofibromatosis Type 1

Symptoms of NF1 include

The symptoms of NF1 tend to get worse over time.

Neurofibromatosis type 2

People with this disorder typically develop slow-growing, non-cancerous tumors on a specific nerve in the brain. Early symptoms usually involve hearing and balance problems. Some people also develop cataracts. Some develop other kinds of tumors.

Symptoms of NF2 include


This disorder causes tumors on nerves of the brain and spinal cord and nerves in the arms and legs. Symptoms include intense pain that can occur in anywhere in the body. The pain is caused by tumors pressing on nerves or tissue. Numbness or tingling in the fingers and toes can also occur.


Test for NF usually include:

To determine if a person has NF1, doctors look for at least two of the following:

To determine if a person has NF2, doctors looksfor tumors on specific nerves. They also look for

Although the skin problems connected with NF1 often appear at birth or shortly afterwards, other symptoms typically don't appear until later. With NF2, tumors grow slowly and may not be found for many years—usually during the teens and early 20s.


NF occurs when a gene suddenly changes. Right now, there is no way to prevent this disease. With NF1 and NF2, a parent with an abnormal gene has a 50% chance of passing it on to each of his or her children. Tests can be performed during pregnancy to determine whether a fetus carries the defective gene.


Treatment for NF depends on

Although there is no known cure for NF, surgery and other treatments can help to relieve symptoms. A person with NF may have several medical specialists to treat the disease.

Neurofibromatosis Type 1

Children with NF1 should have a thorough neurological exam before entering school because of the higher-than-average risk for learning disabilities. Parents and teachers of children already in school should watch for learning problems.

Neurofibromatosis Type 2

Surgery, radiation, and monitoring are the three main treatment approaches.


Surgery to remove tumors can help ease pain, although the pain may return if new tumors form. Specialized doctors can help with pain management.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

When To Call a Professional

Contact your doctor if you or your child has symptoms of NF.


NF progresses differently for each person. It is hard to predict the course of the disease. A person's prognosis depends on the types and locations of tumors that he or she develops.

Neurofibromatosis type 1: Most people will have mild to moderate symptoms that worsen over time. Patients can live normal and productive lives. In some cases, however, NF1 can affect quality of life.

Neurofibromatosis type 2: These tumors generally grow slowly. Balance and hearing may become worse over time. Sometimes tumors grow next to vital structures, such as the brain. If they are not treated, this situation can be serious.

Schwannomatosis: Some patients have mild pain, but most have significant pain. Pain can be managed with treatment.

Additional Information

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

National Institutes of Health Neurological Institute

P.O. Box 5801

Bethesda, MD 20824

Phone: 301-496-5751

Toll-free: 800-352-9424

TTY (for people using adaptive equipment): 301-468-5981

Neurofibromatosis Network

213 S. Wheaton Ave.

Wheaton, IL 60187

Phone: 630-510-1115

The Children's Tumor Foundation
95 Pine Street, 16th Floor

New York, N.Y. 10005

Phone: 212-344-6633
Toll Free: 800-323-7938

Harvard Medical School Center for Neurofibromatosis and Allied Disorders

Simches Research Center

185 Cambridge St.

Boston, MA 02114

Phone: 617-724-2365

Learn more about Neurofibromatosis

Treatment options

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.