What is a Spine Tumor?
A spinal tumor is an abnormal mass of tissue on or around the spinal column. As with all cancer cells, the cells within the spinal tissue will grow and multiply exponentially. Again, as with all tumors these will either be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
The phrase primary spinal tumor refers to a tumor originating in the spinal cord. While a metastic or secondary tumor is a result of cancer spreading from another point of origin to the spine.
In order to name a spinal tumor, physicians will use the placement of the tumor – whether it be in the cervical, thoracic, lumbar or sacrum spine. They are also categorized by three other major groups: intradural-extramedullary, intramedullary and extradural.
Types of Spinal Tumors
Spinal tumors most commonly develop in the spinal cord’s arachnoid membrane (meningiomas), in the nerve roots that extend out from the spinal cord (schwannomas and neurofibromas) or at the base of the spinal cord. These types of spinal tumors are often quite difficult to remove and have a high incidence of reoccurrence – however, they are most often benign.
Tumors that originate in the nerve roots, known as neurofibromas, will generally start out benign but can become malignant over time.
- Intramedullary – These types of spinal tumors grow within the spinal cord, most often in the cervical spine. And despite being benign, can prove difficult to remove.
- Extradural – These types of tumors or spinal lesions are typically a result of metastic cancer or schwannomas derived from the cells covering the nerve roots. These tumors will sometimes extend outside the foramina, and lie both inside and outside the spinal canal.
Metastic Spinal Tumors
The spinal cord is the most common area in the body to develop bone metastasis. Some studies even show that up to 70% of all cancers will eventually spread to the spine, if left untreated.
The most common forms of cancer that will spread to the spine include:
- Lung Cancer – Most common in men.
- Breast Cancer – Most common in women.
- Prostate Cancer
Other cancers that can spread to the spine include – myeloma, lymphoma, melanoma, sarcoma, as well as cancers affecting the gastrointestinal tract, kidney and thyroid. This is why it is vital to treat these types of cancer immediately.
Causes of Spinal Tumors
The cause of most primary spinal tumors is fairly unknown. For the most part, these cancers can be attributed to exposure to cancer-causing agents. Spinal cord lymphomas – are cancers that affect a type of immune cell known as the lymphocytes – therefore these types of cancers are more common in patients with compromised immune systems.
Genetics are also important as primary tumors are far more common in certain families than others.
Primary tumors are also fairly common in patients with the following genetic diseases:
- Neurofibromatosis 2: A hereditary disorder where benign tumors may develop in the arachnoid layer of the spinal cord or in the supporting glial cells.
- Von Hippel-Lindau disease: This rare, multi-system disorder is associated with benign blood vessel tumors (hemangioblastomas) in the brain, retina and spinal cord, and with other types of tumors in the kidneys or adrenal glands.
Some of the most common symptoms of spinal tumors include:
- Back Pain – In the mid-and-lower back. Can often radiate to the legs, buttocks, feet and arms.
- Spinal Nerve Compression – A tumor can press on the spinal nerves, causing more pain in other areas of the body.
- Loss of Sensation
- Muscle Weakness in the legs, arms, or chest.
- Loss of sensitivity to hot and cold.
- Loss of bowel and bladder function.
- Paralysis in different areas of the body.
- Scoliosis or other spinal deformities.
Decisions in regard to treatment are often made by both the orthopedic surgeon as well as the oncologist, depending on the specifics of the patient’s spinal tumor. Non-surgical options are extremely passive, as there are only a few methods of minimizing the size the of the tumors.
Non-Surgical Options include:
- Chemotherapy or Radiation
- Observation & Monitoring
Highly dependent on the results of the spinal tumor and whether it is benign or malignant.
- Spine Tumor Removal
- Decompression Surgery – In essence, can also be done to remove the tumor.
- Spinal Stabilization Surgery
For more information on spinal tumors, other spinal conditions, or to schedule a consultation, contact Dr. Arutyunyan today.