Spinal Tumors:

Causes of Spinal Tumors:

Spinal tumors can be divided into two general groups. Most are "secondary" or metastatic. These spread from somewhere else in the body. Lung tumors, breast tumors, kidney tumors, gastrointestinal tumors, and myeloma can all spread to the spine. In come cases a patient will know that they already have a tumor elsewhere. In other cases, the spinal tumor will be the first sign of problems elsewhere. Smokers are at increased risk of developing a spinal tumor. Less commonly, spinal tumors are “primary” and begin in the spine. Primary tumors are more frequently benign. They are divided into tumors of the spinal cord, tumors involving the coverings of the spinal cord, tumors of bone, and tumors of the nerve roots. The types include meningiomas, neurofibromas, ependymomas, astrocytomas, and other rare lesions. Some primary spinal tumors are genetic and can “run” in families. If someone in your family has had one of these, you may need to be tested periodically.

The Symptoms of Spinal Tumors:

The commonest symptom is pain. Pain at night is particularly worrisome. Numbness, weakness, incoordination, stiffness in the legs, and occasionally a stiff neck can occur with spinal tumors. If you develop any of these symptoms, you should see a spine surgeon. You will need a careful history and physical examination. Special tests, such as an MRI scan, a CT scan, or a myelogram may be needed. These tests can usually give a definitive diagnosis. A biopsy is occasionally needed. It is often possible to remove the entire tumor at the same time as the biopsy. If this is possible, only one surgery is needed.

What Will Happen to My Surgery?

If you think you may have a tumor, you need to see a spine surgeon immediately. Tumors can be emergencies. Progressive neurologic symptoms (such as numbness, weakness, or incoordination), or uncontrolled pain are especially worrisome. Neurosurgeons care for most spinal tumors. Most orthopedists do not take care of this type of problem.

The Treatment of Spinal Tumors:

Unfortunately, surgery is commonly needed to properly diagnose and to remove a spinal tumor. For those tumors that are benign, other treatments like chemotherapy or radiation therapy are not required. For cancerous tumors, the type of treatment varies depending on the type of tumor. Radiation is commonly used to remove microscopic tumor which cannot be removed at surgery. Chemotherapy may be needed if the tumor has already spread. The team approach to tumors is most successful. Neurosurgeons often consult oncologists and radiation therapists after surgery.

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Last modified: 07/27/08