What is a Spinal Tumor?
The term “Spinal Tumor” refers to a mass of tissue that develops within your spinal canal or within the bones of your spine. Doctors can diagnose these growths as malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous). Doctors describe spinal tumors in two ways; by the region of the spine in which they occur (cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacrum) or by their location within the spine (Intradural-extramedullary, Intramedullary, Extradural).
What causes Spinal Tumors?
Doctors do not know the cause of most spinal tumors. Doctors attribute some tumors to exposure to cancer causing agents. Some patient’s compromised immune systems can also cause Spinal Cord Lymphoma. Doctors attribute other spinal tumors to two genetic diseases (Neurofibromatosis 2 and Von Hippel-Lindau disease).
What are the symptoms associated with a Spinal Tumor?
Non-Mechanical pain in the lower to mid back is the most common symptom of spinal tumors. Pain may spread throughout the hips, legs, feet and arms and may get worse over time. Non-surgical methods that can often help alleviate back pain attributed to mechanical causes may not help. As the tumor grows and compresses parts of the spinal cord, bones, nerves or blood vessels, other symptoms may develop.
Other Symptoms may include:
- Loss of sensation or muscle weakness in the legs, arms or chest
- Stiffness in the neck or back
- Pain, tingingling and/or neurologic symptoms
- Difficulty walking
- Decreased sensitivity
- Loss of bowel or bladder function
- Paralysis in varying degrees and in different parts of the body
- Scoliosis or other spinal deformity as a result of a large or damaging tumor
How do Neurosurgeons diagnose Spinal Tumors?
To begin the process, a physician will give the patient a physical medical examination of the back pain and other neurological symptoms. To positively diagnose a spine tumor, the physician will order other diagnostic testing.
These tests include:
- Computed tomography scan (CT or CAT scan)
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Bone Scan
To ascertain whether the tumor is benign or malignant a biopsy of the tumor may be required. If the doctor diagnoses a malignant tumor, a biopsy will help determine the type of cancer.
How do Neurosurgeons treat Spinal Tumors?
Treatment of spinal tumors may require the work of spinal surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and other specialists. Doctors may employ surgical and non-surgical treatments to best serve patients specific circumstances. The specialists take the patient’s overall health and goals of care into consideration when deciding on the best treatment method.
Doctors use observation, chemotherapy and radiation therapy as non-surgical treatment options. Physicians use consistent monitoring and observation using MRIs for tumors that do not appear to be growing or changing. Many tumors respond well to chemotherapy and or radiation therapy. However, some tumors can resist non-surgical treatments.
Different types of tumors will require different surgical methods. New surgical instruments allow surgeons to reach and operate on tumors that were once considered inoperable. Neurosurgeons use high powered microscopes and microsurgery techniques to distinguish between healthy tissue and the tumor. Neurosurgeons monitor the spine to make sure the function of the spine and the important nerves are intact during the procedure.
However, even with these advances in surgical techniques, some tumors may not be completely removed. Following surgery, doctors prescribe radiation and/or chemotherapy, in some cases where the tumors were not completely removed. Recovery from the procedure depends on the scope of the surgery and any nerve damage. Patients may experience loss of sensation or other complications.