Spinal Tumors Center
A spinal tumor is an abnormal growth of tissue. The tumor’s cells may multiple slowly or very quickly. Tumors in the spine are either malignant (cancerous) or benign (noncancerous). Furthermore, tumors can develop anywhere in the spine: cervical (neck), thoracic (mid back), lumbar (low back), and/or sacral (sacrum).
A tumor, also called a neoplasm (new abnormal growth), can develop in the bone and metastasize (spread) to other parts of the spine or outside the spine, such as a lung or breast. In some cases, a tumor in the spine develops from a tumor that has spread from the patient’s breast, lung, kidney, or prostate.
What are the symptoms?
Spinal tumors, whether malignant or benign, can cause different symptoms, including:
- Pain that is not related to an injury or physical activity. Pain in the back or neck that comes on suddenly, quickly gets worse, and is severe, especially at night can be a hallmark of a spinal tumor. Pain may radiate to other parts of the body, such as the arms and hands, or legs and feet, and persists even when at rest.
- Muscle weakness or loss of sensation, especially in the legs, arms, or chest
- Difficulty walking
- Abnormal curvature of the spine not caused by poor posture
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
- Lowered sensitivity to heat and cold
A patient may not have all of these symptoms or may have a combination of them.
What causes spinal tumors?
As mentioned earlier, many spinal tumors originally develop in another part of the body and then metastasize to the spine—these are called secondary tumors. Researchers are uncertain what exactly may cause primary tumors—those that originate in the spine. It is thought that genetics may play a role.
Early diagnosis is vital
The foremost symptom of a spinal tumor is pain—a symptom that can be difficult to ignore. In addition to a physical and neurological examination, your doctor may order certain diagnostic tests to image the spine, which is an essential first step to evaluate a potential spine tumor. Your doctor may order a CT scan, MRI, PET scan (positron emission tomography), or myelogram if symptoms of spinal cord compression are present.
If the imaging studies are positive for a tumor, a biopsy may be performed. A small sample of tissue will be examined microscopically to see if the tumor is benign or malignant. If malignant, the biopsy will determine the type of cancer that is present, as well as determine (along with other studies) the stage of the disease. Of course, depending on the type of tumor and its location, other tests or procedures may be recommended.
What is the treatment for a spinal tumor?
Treatment depends on many factors, including whether the tumor is benign or malignant, tumor size and location, and symptoms. Types of treatment include:
- Monitoring (watch and wait). Small, benign tumors that aren’t growing or impinging on other structures may only require to be watched for changes through the use of MRI or CT scan studies.
- Radiation therapy
- Stereotactic radiosurgery, which delivers a high dose of radiation specifically targeted to the tumor
To learn more about spinal tumors, see the topics listed on the left-side menu bar. If you need a spine tumor specialist, use Find a Doctor to locate a specialist or surgeon in your area.
Spinal Cord Tumor. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/spinal-cord-tumor/home/ovc-20117315. Accessed June 23, 2015.
Spinal Cord Tumor Overview. Hopkins Medicine. http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/adult/spine_shoulder_and_pelvis_disorders/spinal_cord_tumor_overview_134,53/. Accessed June 23, 2015.
Spinal Tumors. American Association of Neurological Surgeons. http://www.aans.org/Patient%20Information/Conditions%20and%20Treatments/Spinal%20Tumors.aspx. Accessed June 23, 2015.