A myxopapillary ependymoma is a rare type of tumor which is usually benign, or non-cancerous, and which most often occurs in younger adults. The cause is unknown, but males are slightly more likely to develop this type of growth. Myxopapillary ependymoma belongs to a group of tumors known as ependymomas, and is commonly found growing in the spine, although it can occur in other parts of the body. The tumor grows slowly, is typically shaped like a sausage and may be up to 4 inches (10 cm) in length with a smooth surface. Even though the tumors are typically benign, rarely a large myxopapillary ependymoma of the sacrum can destroy the sacral bone at the lower end of the spine.
Ependymomas are part of a larger class of tumors known as gliomas. They develop from what are known as ependymal cells inside the central nervous system. Myxopapillary ependymomas make up only around five percent of all ependymomas.
A myxopapillary ependymoma differs from other kinds of ependymoma in that it almost always develops in a part of the spine known as the cauda equina. The cauda equina consists of a collection of nerves which resembles a horse's tail and which extends from the bottom of the spinal cord. Cauda equina is a Latin phrase meaning horse's tail.
Myxopapillary ependymoma symptoms can vary according to the location of the tumor. If the tumor is found in the typical area of the cauda equina, pain may be experienced in the back or lower legs. The pain may be one-sided and can sometimes affect the thighs and the region around the anus. There may be loss of sensation in some parts of the body and possibly loss of movement. Sometimes bladder problems can occur.
Images obtained from CT scans and MRI scans may be used to help confirm the diagnosis before myxopapillary ependymoma treatment is carried out. Surgery may be performed to remove the tumor completely, where this is possible. Complete removal might not be possible in the case of larger tumors, and those which are difficult to separate from the cauda equina nerve roots. Following surgery, the myxopapillary ependymoma prognosis is usually positive, with most patients expected to survive for at least ten years after their operation. Myxopapillary ependymoma recurrence does not occur very often and is even less likely in patients where the whole of the tumor is removed.