Spinal Tumors: Diagnostic Process

Written by Howard S. An, MD

How 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 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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