A spinal tumor is an abnormal growth of tissue in the spinal column. Spinal tumors can be primary or metastatic (secondary).
- Primary tumors originate in the vertebrae or the connective tissues surrounding the spinal cord.
- Metastatic tumors move to the spine from another part of the body.
Spinal tumors can damage the spinal cord by pressing on or infiltrating it, but they do not begin growing in the spinal cord itself. Tumors that originate in the spinal cord are called spinal cord tumors.
Benign (noncancerous) spinal tumors do not spread to tissues of the spinal cord or surrounding structures. Malignant (cancerous) tumors invade surrounding tissues to varying degrees.
How common are spine tumors?
Primary spine and spinal cord tumors are rare. Metastatic tumors are much more common, accounting for about 85 percent of all tumors in the spine and spinal cord.
Who gets spine tumors?
Anyone can have a spinal tumor. It is unknown what causes cells to grow abnormally, but genetics may play a role in the development of some spinal tumors.
How are spine tumors diagnosed?
Spine and spinal cord tumors are diagnosed through imaging tests, primarily MRI and CT scans, and a complete neurological exam. A biopsy, where part of the tumor is removed and identified under a microscope, is necessary to classify the type of tumor.
Tumors of the spine and spinal cord can cause severe symptoms because of their close proximity to the central nervous system. Symptoms depend largely on the location of the tumor.
General symptoms of a spine or spinal cord tumor include:
- Pain, weakness, or numbness in one or more extremities
- Pain or discomfort in your back
- Progressive paralysis
- Bowel or bladder problems
These symptoms are shared with several other disorders, so their presence alone does not mean you have a tumor. Your doctor will need to complete a full examination with diagnostic imaging to make a definitive diagnosis.
Treatment depends on the type of tumor you have. If the tumor is benign or slow growing and not causing pain or disability, your doctor may think it’s best to observe it over time.
Surgical removal may be recommended if the tumor is causing you pain or disability or threatening to harm nearby tissues. Surgery may involve removing parts of the vertebrae. In this case, your neurosurgeon will stabilize and reconstruct your spine using a combination of grafts, plates, and screws.
Chemotherapy may be used alone or in conjunction with surgery and radiation therapy. Not all tumors respond to chemotherapy.
Radiation therapy may be used alone in or in conjunction with surgery and chemotherapy. CyberKnife radiosurgery, which is offered here at Barrow Neurological Institute at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, uses targeted beams of energy to destroy tumor tissue while sparing healthy parts of your body.
- Date of last review: November 28, 2016