A spinal tumor is a growth of cells (mass) in or surrounding the spinal cord.
Tumor - spinal cord
Any type of tumor may occur in the spine, including:
A small number of spinal tumors occur in the nerves of the spinal cord itself. Most often these are ependymomas and other gliomas.
Tumors that start in spinal tissue are called primary spinal tumors. Tumors that spread to the spine from some other place (metastasize) are called secondary spinal tumors. Tumors may spread to the spine from the breast, prostate, lung, and other areas.
The cause of primary spinal tumors is unknown. Some primary spinal tumors occur with certain inherited gene mutations.
Spinal tumors can occur:
Or, tumors may extend from other locations. Most spinal tumors are extradural.
As it grows, the tumor can affect the:
The tumor may press on the spinal cord or nerve roots, causing damage. With time, the damage may become permanent.
The symptoms depend on the location, type of tumor, and your general health. Tumors that have spread to the spine from another site (metastatic tumors) often progress quickly. Primary tumors often progress slowly over weeks to years.
Tumors in the spinal cord usually cause symptoms, sometimes over large portions of the body. Tumors outside the spinal cord may grow for a long time before causing nerve damage.
Symptoms may include:
Exams and Tests
A nervous system (neurological) examination may help pinpoint the location of the tumor. The health care provider may also find the following during an exam:
These tests may confirm spinal tumor:
The goal of treatment is to reduce or prevent nerve damage caused by pressure on (compression of) the spinal cord.
Treatment should be given quickly. The more quickly symptoms develop, the sooner treatment is needed to prevent permanent injury. Any new or unexplained back pain in a patient with cancer should be thoroughly investigated.
You can ease the stress of illness by joining a support group whose members share common experiences and problems.
The outcome varies depending on the tumor. Early diagnosis and treatment usually leads to a better outcome.
Nerve damage often continues, even after surgery. Although some amount of permanent disability is likely, early treatment may delay major disability and death.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you have a history of cancer and develop severe back pain that is sudden or gets worse.
Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if you develop new symptoms, or your symptoms get worse during the treatment of a spinal tumor.
DeAngelis LM. Tumors of the central nervous system and intracranial hypertension and hypotension. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 195.
Review Date: 8/31/2014
Reviewed By: Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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