A spinal tumor is a growth of cells (mass) in or surrounding the spinal cord.
Tumor - spinal cord
Any type of tumor may occur in the spine, including primary and secondary tumors.
Primary tumors: most of these tumors are benign and slow growing.
Secondary tumors or metastasis: these tumors are cancer cells coming from other areas of the body.
The cause of primary spinal tumors is unknown. Some primary spinal tumors occur with certain inherited gene mutations.
Spinal tumors can be located:
As it grows, the tumor can affect the:
The tumor may press on the spinal cord or nerve roots, causing damage. With time, the damage may become permanent.
The symptoms depend on the location, type of tumor, and your general health. Secondary tumors that have spread to the spine from another site (metastatic tumors) often progress quickly. Primary tumors often progress slowly over weeks to years.
Symptoms may include:
A nervous system (neurological) examination may help pinpoint the location of the tumor. The health care provider may also find the following during an exam:
These tests may confirm spinal tumor:
The goal of treatment is to reduce or prevent nerve damage caused by pressure on (compression of) the spinal cord and ensure that you can walk.
Treatment should be given quickly. The more quickly symptoms develop, the sooner treatment is needed to prevent permanent injury. Any new or unexplained back pain in a patient with cancer should be thoroughly investigated.
The outcome varies depending on the tumor. Early diagnosis and treatment usually leads to a better outcome.
Nerve damage often continues, even after surgery. Although some amount of permanent disability is likely, early treatment may delay major disability and death.
Call your provider if you have a history of cancer and develop severe back pain that is sudden or gets worse.
Go to the emergency room or call 911 or the local emergency number if you develop new symptoms, or your symptoms get worse during the treatment of a spinal tumor.
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Moron FE, Delumpa A, Szklaruk J. Spinal tumors. In: Haaga JR, Boll DT, eds. CT and MRI of the Whole Body. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 30.
Niglas M, Tseng C-L, Dea N, Chang E, Lo S, Sahgal A. Spinal cord compression. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Kastan MB, Doroshow JH, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 54.
Reviewed By: Luc Jasmin, MD, PhD, FRCS (C), FACS, Department of Surgery, Johnson City Medical Center, TN; Department of Surgery St-Alexius Medical Center, Bismarck, ND; Department of Neurosurgery Fort Sanders Medical Center, Knoxville, TN, Department of Neurosurgery UPMC Williamsport PA, Department of Maxillofacial Surgery at UCSF, San Francisco, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.