What is a spinal tumor?

A spinal tumor is a cancerous growth (malignant or benign) that develops within or near the spinal cord or in the bones of the spine. Spinal tumors can grow inside the cord (intramedullary), within the membranes covering the spinal cord (extramedullary-intradural), or between the membranes and the bones of the spine (extradural).

Some spinal tumors originate within the bones of the spine (primary tumors), as in the case of benign tumors such as osteoid osteomas, osteoblastomas and hemangiomas. More often, spinal tumors result from cancer cells that have spread from tumor sites elsewhere in the body (secondary tumors).

All spinal tumors can cause pain or other neurological problems by impinging on nerves or the spinal cord, or by disrupting the blood supply to structures that are near or within the spinal cord.

How are spinal tumors diagnosed?

Spinal tumors may cause symptoms that are very similar to other back, neck or nervous system disorders. These symptoms may include pain, numbness, weakness, abnormal sensations in the extremities, bowel or urinary incontinence, or muscle function loss.

To obtain an accurate diagnosis, your spine center physician will study your medical history and conduct a thorough medical examination. You may also be advised to have X-rays, a computerized tomography (CT) scan; a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or a myelogram (an X-ray or CT scan that is done after a contrasting dye has been injected). In some cases, a sample of your cerebral spinal fluid will be collected for analysis. With these tests, your physician can characterize the location and type of tumor that may exist.

What are the treatment options?

Spinal tumors that are causing compression of structures in or near the spine must be treated. In some cases, corticosteroids may provide temporary relief. In many cases, surgery is the most effective course of action. There are many excellent surgical options that can relieve symptoms by removing part or all of a tumor. Depending on the location and type of tumor, your spine center team may also advise radiation therapy or chemotherapy as part of your treatment.

Your spine center doctor will conduct a thorough evaluation and discuss all appropriate treatment options and procedures with you. Together, you will determine the approach that is best for you.