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A Patients' Guide to Spinal Tumors

Benign or malignant? What is the difference?

What is the difference between a benign and malignant spinal tumor?
A benign or non-cancerous tumor is a primary tumor, meaning it did not spread from another part of the body. It may grow larger, but will not spread to another part of the body. Benign tumors may develop slowly and are sometimes discovered incidental to testing (e.g. x-ray) for a different disorder.

Most cases of malignant spinal tumor are those in which cancer has spread to the spine from another part of the body. The terms, metastasize or metastatic cancer is often used to refer to a cancer that spreads. A different term for metastatic spinal tumor is secondary tumor. This means the tumor developed somewhere else in the body and spread to the secondary location (e.g. breast cancer that spreads to the spine).

Metastasis occurs when cancer tumors cells enter the bloodstream or lymphatic system. Your lymphatic system circulates a watery substance called lymph throughout the body that helps to fight infection. Breast, kidney, lung, prostate, and thyroid cancer are types that may spread into the spine.

Updated on: 02/06/10

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Tumor development and growth

Where do spinal tumors grow? Spinal tumors can develop (grow) within the spine's bony structures and/or spinal cord (neural structures). A spinal tumor may develop at one or more levels of the spine; neck (cervical), mid back (thoracic), low back (lumbar), lower (sacrum), or tailbone
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