Spinal Tumors: Diagnostic Process

Doctor is working attentively analyzes patient dataHow Spinal Tumors are Diagnosed
Most patients seek medical help because they are experiencing pain. However, before suspecting a tumor, the doctor must first rule out any other possible causes of the patient’s symptoms. 

First, the doctor will begin with a thorough medical history and physical examination of the outside of the body. The doctor will then use special imaging techniques to see the inside of the body. Imaging tests allow the doctor to see if a tumor is present. While imaging tests cannot tell for sure if a lump is cancerous, they often make it possible to avoid exploratory surgery.

Examples of imaging tests include:

  • Radiographs (x-rays)
  • Nuclear bone scan (radionuclide imaging)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Computed tomography (or CT scan, formerly called CAT scan)

Radiographs are initially obtained, and a bone scan may be ordered early to rule out tumors or infections. A bone scan is mostly positive in tumors but positive bone scans may also be due to other disorders such as infections, advanced arthritis, etc. The most definitive and helpful imaging test of choice is MRI.

If the imaging test shows a tumor, a biopsy will be performed. A biopsy is a surgical procedure in which a sample of tissue is taken from the suspected tumor. This procedure helps the doctor diagnose the type of tumor and if it is cancerous.

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Updated on: 10/18/16
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Alternative Treatments for Spinal Tumors
This well-written article brings out several points worthy of further emphasis. Firstly, the "non-mechanical" nature of malignancies of the spine is an important concept. This means that the pain experienced by the patient is not significantly improved by restful positions (such as decumbency) and may often awaken the patient from sleep.

Mechanical pain sources are most often significantly improved by some "restful" position and significantly worsened by activity. Furthermore, in the event of a malignant spinal tumor the primary considerations are those of the aggressiveness of the tumor itself (and by correlation, any particular sensitivities of the tumor cell to treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or hormonal therapy); the degree to which the mechanical integrity of the bony spinal column has been compromised; and the degree of neurological compromise. With these primary factors in mind the surgical team, in conjunction with the medical team will also consider the overall medical status of the patient in order to come to a treatment plan optimized for that individual patient.

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Alternative Treatments for Spinal Tumors

To help deal with pain caused by a spinal tumor, you may wish to try complementary or alternative treatments, such as acupuncture, aromatherapy, and tai chi.
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