Did you know that spinal tumors are relatively common?
In fact, according to the Merck Manual, “spinal tumors are found in about 2% of autopsies and in up to 5% of people who have spine surgery.” While some tumors are benign, others can be quite dangerous. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a spinal tumor, it’s important to learn as much as you can about them.
In this article, We’ll share all the information you need to know about spinal tumors. We’ll cover what they are, how they’re treated, and the potential risks and complications associated with them. So, whether you’re just starting your research or you need a refresher, keep reading for everything you need to know about spinal tumors.
What Are Spinal Tumors?
While tumors can occur anywhere in the body, they’re relatively common in the spine. In fact, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS), “spine tumors account for about 1% of all cancer diagnoses.”
There are two main types of malignant spinal tumors: primary and metastatic
Primary spinal tumors start in the spine. They’re rare, accounting for less than 0.2% of all cancers.
Metastatic spinal tumors, on the other hand, spread to the spine from other parts of the body. Metastatic tumors are much more common than primary tumors, accounting for about 95% of all spinal tumors.
The most common type of primary tumor is a meningioma. Meningiomas are noncancerous tumors that develop in the membranes that surround the spinal cord. While they’re not cancerous, they can still cause serious problems if they press on the spinal cord
Other types of primary tumors include
- Ependymoma: A tumor that develops in the cells lining the ventricles (the fluid-filled cavities) of the brain or spinal cord.
- Hemangioblastoma: A rare, noncancerous tumor that develops in the blood vessels of the brain or spinal cord.
- Neurofibroma: A noncancerous tumor that develops in the nerves.
- Schwannoma: A noncancerous tumor that develops in the cells that surround and protect nerve fibers.
Secondary tumors are much more common than primary tumors. The most common type of secondary tumor is a metastatic tumor. Metastatic tumors spread to the spine from other parts of the body, most commonly the breast, lung, or prostate.
While primary tumors are rare, they’re usually more serious than secondary tumors. That’s because they grow faster and are more likely to press on the spinal cord or nerves. This can cause serious problems, including paralysis.
What Are the Symptoms of Spinal Tumors?
The symptoms of a spinal tumor depend on its location. Tumors that develop in the bones of the spine (vertebrae) may cause pain, weakness, or numbness in the arms or legs.
Tumors that develop in the soft tissues around the spine (such as the nerves or muscles) may cause pain, weakness, or numbness in the area where the tumor is located.
In some cases, a spinal tumor may not cause any symptoms. This is more likely to happen with a slow-growing benign tumor. Tumors that grow quickly or spread to other parts of the body are more likely to cause symptoms.
What Causes Spinal Tumors?
The exact cause of a spinal tumor is often unknown. However, there are some risk factors that may increase your chance of developing a spinal tumor. These include:
- Age: The risk of developing a spinal tumor increases as you get older.
- Family history: You’re more likely to develop a spinal tumor if you have a family member who has had one.
- Exposure to radiation: Exposure to high levels of radiation, such as from X-rays or cancer treatment, can increase your risk of developing a spinal tumor.
How Are Spinal Tumors Diagnosed?
If your doctor suspects you have a spinal tumor, they’ll likely order one or more of the following tests
- X-ray: A diagnostic test that uses high-energy waves to create images of the inside of your body.
- CT scan: A diagnostic imaging test that uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to create detailed images of the inside of your body.
- MRI: A diagnostic imaging test that uses magnetic fields and radio waves to create detailed images of the inside of your body.
- Bone scan: A diagnostic imaging test that uses a small amount of radioactive material to help identify problems with the bones.
- Myelogram: A diagnostic test that uses dye and X-rays to create images of the spinal cord and nerves.
- PET scan: A diagnostic imaging test that uses a small amount of radioactive material to help identify cancerous cells.
- Biopsy: A procedure in which a doctor removes a small sample of tissue for testing
There are four main stages of spinal tumors
Stage I: The tumor is small and confined to one area
Stage II: The tumor is larger and may have spread to nearby tissue
Stage III: The tumor is large and has spread to nearby lymph nodes
Stage IV: The tumor has spread to other parts of the body
What Are the Possible Complications of Spinal Tumors?
Spinal tumors can cause a number of complications, including pain, paralysis, and problems with bowel or bladder function. In some cases, these complications can be permanent.
How Are Spinal Tumors Treated?
The treatment for a spinal tumor will depend on the type, location, and stage of the tumor. Treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy. In some cases, a combination of these treatments may be used.
Surgery is the most common treatment for a spinal tumor. The type of surgery will depend on the type, location, and stage of the tumor. In some cases, the surgeon may be able to remove the entire tumor. In other cases, they may only be able to partially remove the tumor.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams to kill cancer cells. It can be used before or after surgery. In some cases, it may be used as a first-line treatment for tumors that can’t be removed with surgery.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. It can be taken orally or injected into a vein. It’s usually given in cycles, with each cycle lasting for a few weeks.
Targeted therapy is a newer type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances to target specific cancer cells. This type of therapy is usually used in combination with other treatments.
After treatment, you’ll likely need to see your doctor regularly for follow-up appointments. These appointments will help your doctor check your progress and look for any signs of the tumor returning.
What Is the Prognosis for People With Spinal Tumors?
The prognosis for people with spinal tumors varies depending on the type, location, and stage of the tumor. In general, the earlier the tumor is diagnosed, the better the prognosis.
However, even with treatment, spinal tumors can be difficult to control. In some cases, they may come back after treatment. If this happens, you may need additional treatment.
The best way to improve your chances of a successful outcome is to seek prompt medical care if you have any symptoms of a spinal tumor. Early diagnosis and treatment can improve your prognosis and help prevent complications.
How to choose a doctor for spine tumors?
When choosing a doctor for your spinal tumor, it’s important to find someone who has experience treating this condition. You may want to ask your family and friends for recommendations. You can also contact your local medical society or hospital to get a list of doctors who treat spinal tumors.
Once you’ve found a few doctors, you can call their offices to ask about their experience treating this condition. You may also want to ask about their treatment approach and whether they offer the type of care you’re looking for.
Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, you can make an appointment to meet with the doctor. This will give you a chance to ask more questions and learn more about their approach to care.
Dr. Eshan Nerkar
Neurologist And NeurosuegeonDr. Eshan Nerkar, Consultant Brain & Spine Surgeon in Nashik specializes in Spine Surgery. He practices at AXON Brain & Spine Clinic. He is one of the best neurosurgeons in Nashik with more than 10 years of experience. He has performed more than 1000 surgeries related to brain and spinal surgery procedures.