Spinal tumors are abnormal growths arising from within the spinal cord or spinal column. These tumors can be benign or malignant and they can also be primary (meaning arising directly from the spinal column or cord) or metastatic (meaning they have spread to the spine from a primary tumor located elsewhere in the body).
Different types of primary spinal tumors include meningiomas, schwannomas, neurofibromas, ependymomas, lipomas, and astrocytomas. Even benign spinal tumors can be complicated to remove because of the very delicate nerves in the area. The spinal column is the most common site for metastatic bone disease. Metastatic spinal tumors usually come from primary tumors in the lung, breast or prostate as well as many others.
As with most cancers, the cause is largely unknown. There are, however, some individuals with genetic tendency or compromised immune systems who are more likely to develop spinal tumors. Symptoms of a spinal tumor vary greatly and depend on the size, location and type of tumor. Symptoms usually arise from the tumor pushing against nearby nerves, blood vessels and bones. Symptoms can include: pain, weakness, numbness, difficulty walking, decreased sensation, loss of bowel or bladder function or paralysis.
Spinal tumors are generally diagnosed based on a patient's history, symptoms, physical examination and diagnostic studies. These studies include X-rays, CT scans, MRI, and biopsy. Treatment options depend on the patient's overall health as well as the size, type and location of tumor. The options include: observation, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or surgery. The goal of surgery is to remove as much tumor as possible with the goal of alleviating symptoms, stabilizing the spine and preserving neurological function. As with many surgeries, physical rehabilitation may be required in the recovery period to regain mobility. Outcomes depend on the overall health of the patient as well as the type and severity of tumor removed.