Tumors of the Spine

Spine disorders

Spinal Tumors

A spinal tumor is a growth of abnormal cells that develops within the spinal canal or within the bones of the spine. The tumors that begin in the bones of the spine (vertebrae) are called vertebral tumors. The tumors that develop within the spinal cord are referred to as spinal cord tumors. There are two subtypes of spinal cord tumors that can both affect the function of the spine.

  • Intramedullary tumors originate in the cells within the spinal cord itself such as astrocytomas or ependymomas.
  • Extramedullary tumors develop in the cells around the spinal cord, but often affect spinal cord function. These tumors may be related to schwannomas, meningiomas and neurofibromas.

Tumors from other parts of the body can metastasize, or spread, to the vertebrae or the spinal cord.

Symptoms of a Spinal Tumor

General symptoms of spinal tumors may include:

  • Pain in the neck or back
  • Weakness in the arms or legs
  • Numbness in the arms or legs
  • Change in normal bowel habits
  • Acute spinal pain that is worse in the morning
  • Pain that does not diminish with rest

Diagnosis of a Spinal Tumor

Tumors of the spine are rare and generally occur from metastasis. However, diagnosing a spinal tumor is done after a complete neurological examination, MRI scans and CT scans to examine the spine. Tumors of the spine often arise from advanced forms of cancer in other organs. Treatment will commence quickly to preserve spinal function and quality of life.

Treatment of Spinal Tumor

The goal of treatment of a spinal tumor is to control the severe pain that is associated with these tumors. Surgery is generally the first recommended treatment to preserve neurological function. The spinal cord nerves are highly sensitive and the surgeon will take great measures to avoid damaging these critical structures. Another goal of treatment is to fix any structural instability caused by the tumor while maintaining the structural integrity of the healthy areas of the spine by performing a spinal fusion. If tumors can not be completely eradicated by surgery, then postoperative radiation therapy may improve the outcome. The spinal cord nerves take time to fully heal and future rehabilitation may help improve the patient’s neurological function.

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