Spinal Cord Tumors
Spinal tumors are the abnormal growth of uncontrolled tissues or cells in and around the spinal cord. Tumors can either be cancerous (malignant) or non-cancerous (benign). Some of the commonly occurring benign spinal tumors include osteoma, osteoblastoma, hemangioma, and osteochondroma. The most common malignant spinal tumors are chondrosarcoma, Ewing’s sarcoma, lymphoma, osteosarcoma, and multiple myeloma. Tumors that begin in the spine are called primary spinal tumors. Tumors that spread to the spine from other parts such as the breasts, prostate, lungs, and other areas are called secondary spinal tumors.
The cause of primary spinal tumors is not known, but may occur from genetic defects.
Secondary spinal tumors occur when the cancer cells from other body parts spread to the spine. Other causes of these tumors include:
- Rapid division of cancer cells in the nerves, bones, or cartilage of the spine
- Exposure to radiation and chemicals
- Hereditary – Neurofibromatosis is a tumor of the spinal nerves
People with spine tumors may experience persistent and chronic back pain, numbness, burning and tingling sensation, bladder or bowel control problems, loss of sensation in the legs, arms, ankles and knees and difficulty balancing.
Spine cancer can be diagnosed by a neurological examination. Imaging tests done to confirm the presence of a spinal tumor may include cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) examination, myelogram, spine computed tomography scan, spine magnetic resonance imaging scan, and spine X-ray’s. In addition to these tests, a bone scan and positron emission tomography (PET) scan are also done. After the tumor is found, a biopsy is done to identify the type of tumor and provide necessary treatment.
Medications such as corticosteroids and anti-inflammatory drugs are prescribed to reduce inflammation and swelling around the spinal cord. External braces may also be used which provide support and assist in controlling pain.
Other treatments for spinal tumors include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, and physical therapy. Surgery is done to remove tumors that are confined to only one portion of the spine. To minimize nerve damage, electrodes are used to test different nerves of the spine. In some cases, sound waves are used to break up tumors and the remaining tissue is removed.