A spinal tumor is an abnormal mass of tissue either inside the spine or outside. It is also called a neoplasm meaning a new abnormal growth. They can develop in the bone, spread to other parts of the spine, or outside the spine, like the lungs and chest. Tumor cells can multiply slowly or very rapidly. Tumors are either cancerous or non-cancerous. They can develop anywhere in the spine:
- Cervical – neck
- Thoracic – mid-back
- Lumbar – low-back
- Sacral – sacrum
It is not uncommon for spinal tumors to develop out of a tumor from the individual’s breast, lung, kidney, prostate, or another area of the body that has spread out.
Whether cancerous or not, spinal tumors can cause a variety of symptoms, including:
- Pain not related to an injury or physical activity.
- Pain in the back or neck that presents suddenly, quickly worsens, especially at night. This can be an indicator of a spinal tumor.
- Pain that radiates to other parts of the body, like the arms, hands, legs, and feet.
- The pain continues even when resting.
- Muscle weakness or loss of sensation, especially in the legs, arms, or chest.
- Difficulty walking
- Abnormal curvature of the spine not from poor posture
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
- Lowered sensitivity to heat and cold
An individual could have a dominating symptom/s or a combination.
As previously mentioned these tumors can originally develop in another part of the body and then metastasize to the spine. These types of tumors are secondary tumors. Research scientists are still trying to figure out what exactly causes primary tumors that originate in the spine. One theory believes genetics plays a role.
The most common symptom of a spinal tumor is pain. Examinations and diagnostic tests will be conducted both physical and neurological. A doctor or specialist needs to see and evaluate the spine. This is essential in diagnosing a potential tumor. A doctor could also order:
- CT scan
- PET scan – Positron Emission Tomography
- Myelogram if there are symptoms of spinal cord compression
If the imaging reveals a tumor, a biopsy could be performed. A sample of tissue will be examined under a microscope to see if the tumor is cancerous or not. If the tumor is cancerous, the biopsy will show the type of cancer and determine the stage of the disease. Depending on the tumor type and location, other tests/procedures could be recommended.
There are many factors that go into creating an optimal treatment plan. This includes whether the tumor is cancerous or not, size, location, and symptoms. Types of treatment:
- Observe and wait as small non-cancerous tumors that are not growing or impinging/pinching other spinal structures could only need to be monitored for changes.
- Radiation treatment
- Stereotactic radiosurgery works by delivering a high dose of radiation specifically targeted at the tumor
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