What is a spinal tumor? Am I at risk?

Written by Bassem A. Georgy, MD

What is a spinal tumor?
The American Association of Neurological Surgeons defines a spinal tumor as "an abnormal mass of tissue within or surrounding the spinal cord and spinal column." A medical term for tumor is neoplasm, which means new growth. Neoplasm is taken from the Greek words neo (new) and plasma (growth). A spinal tumor or neoplasm is first categorized as either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancer).
If a family member has a spinal tumor does that increase my risk?
Not necessarily, although most everyone is at some risk for a type of cancer. Sometimes lifestyle and environment increase the risks. Hereditary risk factors are different and certainly more complex as they are linked to gene mutations (abnormal changes) in cell DNA. DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is a cell molecule that passes the genetic code from one generation to the next.

Neurofibromatosis is an example of a genetic disorder that causes nerve tumors. There are two types, NF1 (skin, eye tumors) and NF2 (brain, spinal cord, ear). NF2 is the type that can affect the spine. Neurofibromatosis is a disorder usually discovered during childhood. Nerve tumors put pressure on nearby structures and cause different symptoms depending on the involved area.

Are spine tumors serious?
Obviously, some spinal tumors are more serious than others. Generally speaking, the severity of a spinal tumor is determined by your doctor and may be based on different factors including:

Of course there are many different types of spine tumors - benign or malignant, which are explained in the section types of spinal tumors.

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Benign or malignant? What is the difference?