A spinal tumor is a cancerous or noncancerous growth that develops within the spinal canal or bones of the spine. Though a spinal tumor can affect anyone, the risk is higher in older people. Most spinal tumors are noncancerous (primary tumors) and originate in the spine itself, rarely spreading to other parts of the body. Secondary spinal tumors, on the other hand, spread to the spine from some other cancer site in the body. In fact, secondary spinal tumors result from lung, prostate, or breast cancer. In the absence of timely diagnosis and the effective spinal tumor treatment, the condition can transform to permanent paralysis or become life-threatening. Physicians who are members of the Texas Health Spine and Orthopedic Center referral line treat various spinal conditions including spinal tumors. Continuing the discussion, the blog post discusses a few important facts about spinal tumors and available treatment options.
Types of Spinal Tumors
Spinal tumors are broadly classified into three types, depending on their origin, namely:
Intramedullary tumors originate from inside the spinal cord, individual nerves of the spine or cells that provide physical support and insulation for the nervous system. Though most of intramedullary tumors are benign, surgical removal is difficult; given the sensitivity of the spinal network.
Extramedullary spinal tumors are benign growths, often starting outside the spinal cord and inside the dura mater, the protective sheath of the spinal cord.
Most spinal cord tumors are extradural, developing within bones surrounding the spinal cord and outside the dura mater.
Spinal tumors produce a range of symptoms that may get worse with time, as the tumor grows in size. The location of the tumor also influences the nature of symptoms, as large spinal tumors can compress the spinal cord and nearby nerves, restricting blood supply to the spinal cord, resulting in effects such as:
- Classical back pain, which often radiates to other parts of the body.
- Sensory changes including numbness, tingling sensation, and reduced sensitivity to temperature changes.
- Lack of sensation in the arms or legs
- Loss of bowel and bladder functions
- Progressive muscle weakness, if the tumor presses against motor nerves, resulting in skewed nerve communication
Though there is no medical explanation for the development of spinal tumors. Many experts link them to a number of factors, such as defective genes and exposure to certain chemicals or carcinogens. Hereditary disorders, such as Neurofibromatosis 2, Von Hippel Lindau disease or a history of cancer, are often linked to the growth of spinal tumors.
Most doctors start the diagnosis with an evaluation of a patient’s medical records and checking for visible symptoms of a spinal tumor. A physical examination is the next step, wherein the doctor performs a detailed neurological analysis, with special focus on strength, balance, and coordination. Following physical examination, medical tests can confirm the presence or absence of spinal tumor. The tests include:
The scan produces detailed images of the spine and helps in revealing the location of any spinal tumor as well as the condition of the bones of the spine.
MRI uses a powerful magnet, radio wave transmitter, and a computer to provide a better picture of the spinal tumors and the spinal cord and associated nerves when compared with a CT scan.
This technique uses a small sample of cerebrospinal fluid to check for abnormal tissue growth to confirm the presence or absence of a spinal tumor.
In a biopsy, a small sample of the tumor’s tissue is extracted and examined to determine the type of spinal tumor and figure a suitable treatment method.
Spinal tumor treatment aims at relieving the compression on nearby nerves and spinal cord, as well as reconstructing any portions of the spinal bones destroyed by the tumor, so as to ease back pain and other symptoms. Tumors may grow quickly; therefore, the sooner the treatment starts, the better. Before proceeding with treatment, the doctor may first prescribe corticosteroids and anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce swelling and inflammation around the spinal cord and surrounding structures. Once swelling subsides, other treatment methods can help to eliminate the tumor, such as:
Surgery is the most appropriate approach if there is extensive destruction of the bones of the spine or there is significant compression of the spinal cord and nerves.
Radiation therapy helps to slow down the tumor growth, and is extremely useful, especially when surgical elimination poses a risk of damage to the spinal cord. The procedure can come in handy, should the surgeon only remove easily accessible regions of tumor tissue.
Chemotherapy is the standard treatment for many types of spinal tumors. It involves medications to either shrink the tumor or suppress its growth. Most doctors recommend chemotherapy in conjunction with radiation therapy, even after surgery, to negate any chances of tumor recurrence.
A spinal tumor can be treated, if diagnosed during its early stages. For that to happen, a patients needs to identify early symptoms, such as new onset unrelenting back pain, especially those bouts keeping you awake at night, or are persistent despite medications. A number of spinal tumor treatment options are available depending on the tumor size, location and the degree of symptoms. If you notice any of the spinal tumor symptoms, the physicians who are members of the Texas Health Spine and Orthopedic Center referral line can help. To learn more about physicians who treat spinal cord tumors or book an appointment, fill out our contact form. You can also call us at 1-888-608-4762.
Physicians who are members of the referral program practice independently and are not employees or agents of THSOC.