Spinal Tumors

Spinal tumors can occur anywhere in spine and with varying symptoms.

Spinal Tumors
Spinal Tumors

Condition and Causes

Any type of tumor can happen in the spine, whether its leukemia, lymphoma, or myeloma. Tumors can start in the spinal tissue, or they can spread from other areas like the lung, prostrate, breast, or other places. The exact cause of spinal tumors is not known, but some are caused by defects with genetics. Regardless of whether a tumor is cancerous, it poses a threat if it's in the spinal cord. A tumor can put pressure on nerves, which can cause pain and can lead to paralysis and neurological problems.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of spinal tumors vary depending on the type of tumor, the patient's health, and the location of the tumor. Tumors that start in spinal tissue are called primary spinal tumors, and they can take weeks to years to develop. Tumors that have spread from another area are called secondary spinal tumors or metastatic tumors, and they progress very quickly. Symptoms of spinal tumors include radiating back pain that's worse at night, loss of or abnormal sensations, bowel and bladder problems, muscle weakness or function loss, and muscle spasms.

In order to diagnose spinal tumors, a physician will go over the patient's medical history and follow with a physical exam. During the exam, the doctor will look for muscle weakness or increased muscle tone, spinal tenderness, loss of pain and temperature sensation, and abnormal reflexes. In order to confirm the diagnosis, the physician may order an examination or cell study of cerebral spinal fluid, a myelogram, and a spinal CT scan, X-ray, or MRI. A biopsy of the tumor will be needed to confirm whether the tumor is cancerous or not.


Treatment varies depending on the age and general health of the patient, whether the tumor has spread to the spine, and the type of tumor. The aim of treating the tumor is to prevent or reduce nerve damage to the spine caused by the tumor putting on the spinal cord. While removing the tumor completely is optimal, sometimes such a procedure is made complicated due to risk of permanent damage to the nerves surrounding the tumor.

If a tumor is discovered early and is not cancerous or putting pressure on the tissues surrounding it, observation may be recommended. However, if the tumor is posing a threat, surgery will be needed. While many tumors can be removed surgically because of advances in techniques and surgical instruments, not all tumors can be removed completely, including metastatic and ependymomas tumors. Radiation can be used alone or in conjunction with spinal surgery. Recovery time depends on the procedure but can take months or weeks.

Risks and benefits

Failure to take preventive measures for any spinal condition may result in a further aggravated condition. Surgical measures for advanced cases may give relief from extremity pain. The risks involved with surgery are common - infection, blood loss, non-union, damage to nerves and spine - and some specific to your treatment. This material is intended to give the patient an overview of surgical procedures and treatments and is not intended to replace the advice and guidance of a physician. Always consult with your doctor about the particular risks and benefits of your treatment.