Spine tumors

What is spinal tumor?

A spinal tumor is a growth of cells (mass) in or surrounding the spinal cord.

What are the types of spinal tumors?

There are two main types of tumors that may affect the spinal cord:

  • Intramedullary tumors begin in the cells within the spinal cord itself, such as astrocytomas or ependymomas.
  • Extramedullary tumors develop within the supporting network of cells around the spinal cord. Although they don’t begin within the spinal cord itself, these types of tumors may affect spinal cord function by causing spinal cord compression and other problems. Examples of extramedullary tumors that can affect the spinal cord include schwannomas, meningiomas and neurofibromas.

What are the symptoms?

Spinal tumors may cause a variety of symptoms depending on their type, location, and rate of growth.

In general, the most common pattern of symptoms is pain at the tumor site in the neck or back, followed by neurological problems like weakness / numbness in the arms or legs or a change in normal bowel or bladder habits.

In patients already diagnosed with cancer of another area of the body, the new onset of spinal pain may indicate a spinal fracture caused by a metastatic tumor that has weakened a vertebra.

Tumors that arise inside the dura are usually benign and slow growing. Patients with these tumors may have pain for years before any neurological problems occur.

What are the causes?

The cause of primary spinal tumors is unknown. Some primary spinal tumors occur with certain inherited gene mutations.

What treatments are available?

Intradural-Extramedullary and Intramedullary Tumors are usually surgically removed. The goal of treatment is usually to:

  • Totally remove the tumor
  • Preserve neurological function

The spinal cord and nerves are highly sensitive and avoiding damage to these structures is a critical part of surgery. Monitoring techniques may be used throughout the surgery to determine the function of the spinal cord as the tumors are being removed. If the tumor cannot be completely removed (e.g. if it adheres to many spinal nerves), post-operative radiation therapy may improve outcome in some cases. If the tumor is metastatic, chemotherapy may also be helpful.Following the surgery, it may take some time for the nerves to fully heal. Usually rehabilitation and time significantly helps improve a patient’s neurological function.

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