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Alternative Names Return to topTumor - spinal cord
Definition Return to top
A spinal tumor is a growth of cells (mass) in or surrounding the spinal cord.
Causes Return to top
Any type of tumor may occur in the spine, including:
A small number of spinal tumors occur in the nerves of the spinal cord itself. Most often these are ependymomas and other gliomas.
Tumors that start in spinal tissue are called primary spinal tumors. Tumors that spread to the spine from some other place (metatastasis) are called secondary spinal tumors.
The cause of primary spinal tumors is unknown. Some primary spinal tumors occur with genetic defects. A spinal tumor is much less common than a primary brain tumor.
Spinal tumors can occur:
Or, tumors may extend from other locations. Most spinal tumors are extradural.
As it grows, the tumor can affect the:
It may press on (compress) the spinal cord or nerve roots (similar to spinal cord trauma), invade normal cells, or block blood vessels and lead to a lack of oxygen (ischemia).
Symptoms Return to top
The symptoms depend on the location, type of tumor, and your general health. Tumors that have spread to the spine from another site (metastatic tumors) often progress quickly. Primary tumors often progress slowly over weeks to years.
Tumors in the spinal cord (intramedullary) usually cause symptoms, sometimes over large portions of the body. Tumors outside the spinal cord (extramedullary) may grow for a long time before causing nerve damage.
Symptoms may include:
Exams and Tests Return to top
A nervous system (neurologic) examination may find the location of the tumor.
The health care provider may also find the following during an exam:
These tests may confirm spinal tumor:
Treatment Return to top
The goal of treatment is to reduce or prevent nerve damage from pressure on (compression of) the spinal cord.
Treatment should given quickly. The faster symptoms develop, the sooner treatment is needed to prevent permanent injury. Any new or unexplained back pain in a patient with cancer should be taken seriously.
Support Groups Return to top
You can ease the stress of illness by joining a support group whose members share common experiences and problems.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
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 permanent disability is likely, treatment may delay major disability and death.
Possible Complications Return to top
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call your health care 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 the local emergency number (such as 911) if you develop new symptoms, or your symptoms get worse during the treatment of a spinal tumor.
References Return to top
DeAngelis LM. Tumors of the central nervous system and intracranial hypertension and hypotension. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007: chap 199.Update Date: 9/22/2008 Updated by: Daniel B. Hoch, PhD, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.