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Spinal Tumors

What is it?

A spinal tumor is a growth that develops within your spinal canal. Whether cancerous or noncancerous, a spinal tumor can be serious, even life-threatening, and should be treated immediately.

If left untreated, a spinal tumor can cause pain, neurological problems and even paralysis.

Spinal tumors are rare; approximately 10,000 people per year are diagnosed with spinal tumors.

What causes it?

While the exact cause of spinal tumors is not known, patients with a family history of tumors or with underlying conditions that are known to cause tumors, such as neurofibromatosis or Von Hippel-Lindau disease, are at greater risk.

Patients with a weakened immune system are also at higher risk of developing a specific type of spinal tumor called spinal cord lymphoma.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Depending on its size and location, the signs of a spinal tumor can vary.

Back pain is often an early symptom of both noncancerous and cancerous spinal tumors. The pain may spread from your back to your hips, legs, feet or arms over time.

Cancerous tumors typically grow more quickly, while noncancerous tumors progress more slowly.

What are the other side effects/areas of the anatomy affected?

Spinal tumors can affect other areas of the body, depending on their size and location.
Some of the more common side effects include:

  • Numbness or weakness in the legs
  • Decreased sensitivity to pain, heat or cold
  • Difficulty walking, and increased falling
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Paralysis, if tumor is left untreated

How is it diagnosed?

Your doctor will first conduct a medical history and physical examination.

If a spinal tumor is suspected, an MRI will be performed. A biopsy may also be done to determine if the tumor is cancerous. Many times, the biopsy will be done through fine-needle aspiration, a procedure in which a thin needle is used to draw fluid from the tumor.

What are the treatment options?

If you are diagnosed with a spinal tumor, your doctor will discuss treatment options with you. Treatment depends on the size and location of the tumor, as well as if the tumor is cancerous or noncancerous.

Spinal tumors are commonly treated through one or more of the following ways:

  • Corticosteroids. This medication can reduce swelling if a spinal tumor is pressing against the spinal cord.
  • Surgery. Depending on their location, some spinal tumors can be removed surgically.
  • Radiation therapy. If the entire tumor cannot be removed surgically, radiation therapy may follow to reduce the tumor’s size.

If the tumors are cancerous, chemotherapy may also be recommended as part of your treatment plan. Your doctor will discuss therapies available through the cancer care specialists at EvergreenHealth.

The prognosis for patients with spinal tumors depends on many factors including the type of tumor and treatment. Your doctor will explain your individual diagnosis and what you can expect after treatment.

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