Common Spinal Tumor Questions

Reviewed by George I. Jallo, MD

Where do spinal tumors originate?
A spinal tumor can originate within the spinal column or spread to the spine from somewhere else. Primary tumors originate in the spine and are very rare. Primary tumors can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Secondary tumors are malignant tumors that have spread (metastasized) from another part of the body, such as the lungs, breasts, or thyroid.

How can I tell if my back pain is a spinal tumor?
Some of the symptoms of a back or neck tumor are similar to other spinal disorders. Keep in mind that a spinal tumor is a rare condition, so don't panic. Non-mechanical back or neck pain is the most common symptom. This type of pain is constant, is not activity-related, and is not relieved by lying down or resting. Other symptoms that may be associated with a tumor include sciatica, progressive numbness or weakness, fever, partial paralysis, or bowel and bladder dysfunction. Of course, bowel or bladder dysfunction requires immediate medical attention.

If I undergo radiation therapy, will I be radioactive?
Most patients who need radiation therapy undergo external radiation therapy which does not make you radioactive. This type of radiation therapy is often provided on an outpatient basis.

My doctor said to expect pain after radiation therapy. Why would that happen?
Many patients report increased pain or discomfort following radiation therapy, although the pain is temporary. Radiation therapy may cause tissue inflammation as treatment affects tumor cells.

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Surgery for Spinal Tumors