Pediatric Spinal Cord Tumors

Written by George I. Jallo, MD
Reviewed by Curtis A. Dickman, MD

Spinal cord tumors in children are rare, but they do happen. In fact, tumors of the nervous system are the most common type of solid tumors (those not originating in the blood or bone marrow) found in children. Spinal cord tumors can be life threatening if left untreated. The following information will give you a better understanding of this potentially serious medical condition.

What are Spinal Cord Tumors?

Spinal tumors, also called neoplasms, are abnormal growths of tissue found inside the spinal column. They can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Tumors that originate in the spine are called primary tumors. Whether cancerous or non-cancerous, tumors in the spine can cause serious health problems as they grow and place pressure on the spinal cord. Immediate treatment is usually required.

Symptoms of Spinal Cord Tumors

Symptoms of spinal tumors generally develop slowly and worsen over time. The main symptom is chronic back pain. Other symptoms may include one or more of the following:

While some of these symptoms may be difficult to recognize in very young children and infants, regular checkups with a pediatrician can help detect many potential health problems, including tumors.

Diagnostic Tests

The first step in diagnosing a spinal cord tumor includes a discussion of the child's health history and a thorough physical examination. If a spinal cord tumor is suspected, the child will need to undergo some diagnostic tests to rule out other possible health problems. These tests may include:

Commentary by Curtis A. Dickman, MD

Fortunately, tumors affecting the spinal cord and nerves are rare and are often non-cancerous, benign lesions. Benign tumors usually are able to be completely resected and cured and do not require chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Radiation and/or chemotherapy are usually reserved for cancerous tumors or tumors that cannot be completely resected. The microscopic appearance of the tumor after it is biopsied or excised (histopathology), is essential for determining the appropriate treatment of a
spinal cord tumor.

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Treatment of Pediatric Spinal Cord Tumors