What causes a spinal tumor?
A spinal tumor may be cancerous (malignant) or non-cancerous (benign). Changes in the DNA inside cells may cause those cells to divide or die rapidly or abnormally, resulting in growths such as spinal tumors. While the exact cause of most primary tumors is unknown, genetics may play a role in their development. Inherited syndromes may lead to the genetic changes that cause cancerous growths, but these syndromes are not believed to cause most brain or spinal tumors. Aside from radiation, environmental risk factors that contribute to the development of brain or spinal tumors are unidentified.
A metastatic spinal tumor is caused when cancer spreads from other parts of the body (such as the lung, breast or prostate) to the spine. Metastatic spinal tumors may affect multiple vertebrae. Metastatic tumors differ from primary tumors and may prevent new bone from being formed while also destroying existing bone mass.
What are the symptoms of a spinal tumor?
- Back pain is a common symptom of a spinal tumor.
- This pain may be severe and is often not relieved through pain medication or activity modification.
- In addition to muscle spasms and weakness in the back, neurological problems and paralysis may also result.
- Weakness or loss of muscle function may also spread into the legs or arms, eventually causing partial or total loss of sensation in these extremities.
- These conditions may worsen over time.
- Some patients may also experience incontinence.
How are spinal tumors diagnosed?
Your physician will conduct a physical exam and perform a complete review of your medical history.
If these examinations indicate the potential signs of a spinal tumor, your physician will order a series of diagnostic imaging tests that may include an X-ray, MRI or computed tomography (CT scan). A physician may also require a biopsy or spinal tap to examine the cells more closely to determine if they are cancerous.
How are spinal tumors treated?
Your physician will consider the size, type and location of your spinal tumor when prescribing treatment options. The earlier a spinal tumor is discovered, the better the prognosis for the patient.
Some spinal tumors may be removed by surgery. If your surgeon is unable to remove the entire tumor, radiation may be administered to focus on the remaining mass. Radiation may also be advisable without surgery as a stand-alone method of treatment. Chemotherapy may also be given orally or by injection and may act alone or in conjunction with other treatment methods. Corticosteroids may be recommended to help relieve pressure on the spinal cord.
Your physician will work to stem the progression of the tumor, relieve pressure on your spinal cord and surrounding nerves, and eliminate or reduce the size of the tumor.