What is a Spinal Tumor?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A spinal tumor is a tumor which grows in or around the spine. Primary spinal tumors originate in the spine, while secondary tumors are malignancies which have migrated from elsewhere in the body to the spine. The prognosis for a patient with a spinal tumor varies, depending on where the tumor is, how large it is, what kind of tumor it is, and how early it was identified. As a general rule, early detection greatly improves the prognosis for the patient.

Originating in the spine, primary spinal tumors grow in or around the spine.
Originating in the spine, primary spinal tumors grow in or around the spine.

Tumors of the nerve cells such as gliomas can occur inside the spinal cord itself, in intramedullary spinal tumors. Spinal tumors can also be myelomas, leukemias, or lymphomas, which involve the blood, and more rarely, osteosarcomas, which develop in the bones of the spine. Intradural tumors occur in the dura, the tough lining which surrounds the spinal cord, while extradural tumors are outside the dura, surrounding the spinal cord.

Back pain may be the first sign of a spinal tumor.
Back pain may be the first sign of a spinal tumor.

As a spinal tumor grows, it puts pressure on the spinal cord. For patients, this means that one of the first symptoms of a spinal tumor is back pain around the region of the tumor. The pressure on the nerves can also lead to changes in sensation, urinary or fecal incontinence, muscle weakness, and sharp, shooting pains. These symptoms usually lead patients to consult a doctor. If the doctor suspects a spinal tumor, medical imaging studies can be used to look for the tumor, and once the tumor is identified, additional studies can be done to learn more about it and develop a treatment plan.

A patient may need to undergo chemotherapy treatments to shrink a spinal tumor.
A patient may need to undergo chemotherapy treatments to shrink a spinal tumor.

Some spinal tumors are benign, and doctors may take a wait and see approach with these tumors. Malignant tumors need to be treated aggressively, however, as spinal tumors often grow quickly. Surgery to remove the tumor is one option, and the patient may also be given steroids for inflammation and chemotherapy to shrink the tumor. Physical therapy may also be required to help the patient deal with damage caused by the tumor.

Back pain may be a symptom of a spinal tumor.
Back pain may be a symptom of a spinal tumor.

Some spinal tumors are linked with genetic conditions. People diagnosed with these conditions may be encouraged to receive regular checkups to monitor their spinal cords for any signs of tumor development. Others appear for no known reason. When diagnosed with a spinal tumor, patients should ask their doctors about all available treatment options and their risks. Every tumor is different, and treatment plans may be adjusted accordingly. For example, some tumors are considered inoperable due to their location, while others may respond to specialized medications without the need for surgery.

Intensive physical therapy may be used in conjunction with surgery and chemotherapy to help those with spinal tumors regain strength and mobility.
Intensive physical therapy may be used in conjunction with surgery and chemotherapy to help those with spinal tumors regain strength and mobility.
A doctor should be consulted if a person suspects he or she has a spinal tumor.
A doctor should be consulted if a person suspects he or she has a spinal tumor.
Spinal tumors often grow very quickly.
Spinal tumors often grow very quickly.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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