Spinal Tumors: Benign and Malignant Types

Types of Spinal Tumors

There are 5 common types of primary benign tumors including:

  • Aneurysmal Bone Cyst (ABC). These are not actually tumors; they are cysts that look and are treated much like tumors. ABCs occur most often in the posterior area of the lumbar spine. More women than men have these cysts and most are discovered when the patient is in her teens or twenties.
  • Giant Cell Tumor (GCT). This very aggressive tumor is most often found in the sacrum and anterior areas of the spinal column. Patients are more likely to be women between the ages of 30 and 40.
  • Hemanginoma. This type of benign tumor is usually found in the thoracic and lumbar areas of the spine and is more likely to affect women between the ages of 30 and 40. This tumor is usually benign and does not cause any problems in the majority of cases.
  • Osteoid Osteoma. This type of tumor is relatively common, especially in males between 20 and 40 years of age. They are often located in the posterior area of the lumbar spine. These types of tumors sometimes cause spinal deformity.
  • Osteoblastoma. These tumors are similar to osteoid osteomas but are larger, more aggressive and, fortunately, not as common. They are more likely to affect males between 20 and 30 years of age and are most often found in the posterior area of the lumbar spine.

Spinal tumor illustration.Every year approximately one in 100,000 people receive a diagnosis of a spinal tumor. Photo Source: 123RF.com.There are also a number of primary malignant tumors of the spine. These include:

  • Chordoma. These are rare, slow-growing tumors typically found in male patients between the ages of 50 and 70. These types of tumors are most commonly found in the sacrum and surgical resection is mandatory. Because these tumors are often located very close to the nerve roots, surgery sometimes involves the removal of the involved nerves.
  • Osteosarcoma. These tumors are rare but often appear in young male patients. They are usually highly malignant and easily spread to other areas of the body.
  • Chondrosarcoma. These tumors are slow-growing and most likely found in the thoracic, lumbar and sacrum areas of the spine. Patients are more likely to be males over the age of 40. Some of these tumors cannot be removed surgically due to their position in the spine, but proper surgical resection is key to long-term survival of the patient. In addition, these tumors do not always respond well to chemotherapy or radiation.
  • Plasmacytoma. These tumors are called round cell tumors due to how they look under a microscope. They can appear as one tumor or as multiple tumors. They are usually located on the thoracic or lumbar areas of the spine in males over the age of 50.
  • Multiple Myeloma. These round cell tumors are the most common type of bone cancer in adults. Patients are usually older, between the ages of 50 and 80. These tumors usually respond well to chemotherapy and radiation.
  • Lymphoma. These round cell tumors are most likely of the non-Hodgkin’s type and are often found in multiple areas of the body. Patients are more likely to be between the ages of 40 and 60.
  • Ewing’s Sarcoma. This is a highly malignant round cell tumor most often found in children. Most are located in the sacrum area of the spine. Unfortunately, the 5-year survival rate is less than 20% for patients with this type of tumor.

Spinal tumors can also be caused by cancer that has spread from other areas of the body. How cancer is spread is still unclear. However, every year approximately one in 100,000 people receive a diagnosis of a spinal tumor.1

Any type of cancer can spread to the spine. The following types of cancer most frequently do so:

  • Lung cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Thyroid cancer
  • Kidney cancer
Updated on: 04/16/19
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Causes of Spinal Tumors
This well-written article brings out several points worthy of further emphasis. Firstly, the "non-mechanical" nature of malignancies of the spine is an important concept. This means that the pain experienced by the patient is not significantly improved by restful positions (such as decumbency) and may often awaken the patient from sleep.

Mechanical pain sources are most often significantly improved by some "restful" position and significantly worsened by activity. Furthermore, in the event of a malignant spinal tumor the primary considerations are those of the aggressiveness of the tumor itself (and by correlation, any particular sensitivities of the tumor cell to treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or hormonal therapy); the degree to which the mechanical integrity of the bony spinal column has been compromised; and the degree of neurological compromise. With these primary factors in mind the surgical team, in conjunction with the medical team will also consider the overall medical status of the patient in order to come to a treatment plan optimized for that individual patient.

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Causes of Spinal Tumors

We've put together answers to the most common questions about spinal tumors, including questions about radiation.
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