What are Spinal Tumors?
Spinal tumors might either be cancerous, or they might not be considered malignant. There are various treatment options available for those tumors which are cancerous. Malignant is a common term for growths which are cancerous while benign is what not cancerous tumors are called. These malignant or benign tumors in the spine can develop either in the bones or within or close to the spinal cord. Some patients may experience back pain or spinal pain as a result of these growths. Of course, most back pain is not even caused by a tumor. There is a wide range of reasons why a patient might be experiencing back pain. The definition of a tumor is that of the growth of an abnormal mass of tissue. A growth in the back can cause pain or, in some cases, paralysis. Eventually, it can even lead to neurological problems as it affects the nerves.1
The Nervous System
The nervous system is an integral asset to the body, and obstructions, like tumors, or injuries that hinder the nerves make it difficult for the brain to communicate with the rest of the body and vice versa. This leads to a whole host of additional problems. Damage or interference in the nerves can be life-threatening or it might cause disability. Patients often have back pain or radiating pain, which is hip pain, leg pain, or pain in the arms and feet that the patient’s body perceives as spreading further than their origins. Patients may also demonstrate muscle weakness and numbness. Some patients can develop problems with their voluntary control over bowel function, bladder function, and walking.2
Types of Spinal Tumors
Spinal tumors may also cause decreased pain, cold, and heat sensitivity as they affect the nerves’ ability to communicate. In severe cases, there might be paralysis. Although this is dependent on which points the nerves have been pinched or compressed. Malignant tumors tend to grow more quickly than benign ones.
The vertebrae, also known as the spinal bones, and spinal cord can be affected by tumors. The most common spinal tumors are vertebral, and these particular types of tumors are also called “extradural”. Those that grow within the membranes covering the spinal cord are “intradural-extramedullary”. The ones found inside the spinal cord are “intramedullary”.
Spinal tumors may have a genetic cause, or they may be environmental or spontaneous. Two disorders that are inherited are von Hippel-Lindau disease and neurofibromatosis 2. The less common tumors are the cancerous ones that start in the spinal bones. They include the following: osteosarcomas, Ewing’s sarcoma, and multiple myeloma. Non-cancerous tumors of the bones in the spine are osteoid osteomas, osteoblastomas, and hemangiomas. Some spinal tumors are not so strictly binary and their development may lead them to become malignant or benign. These types of tumors are meningiomas, schwannomas, neurofibromas, astrocytomas, or ependymomas.3 The presence of leukemia, myeloma, and lymphoma can also produce spinal tumors. Tumors can stay in the spine as primary spinal tumors, or they can spread as secondary spinal tumors (metastasis).4
Treatments for Tumors of the Spine
Tumor or cancer does not cause most back pain. That’s why doctors need to perform a differential diagnosis to determine what the true cause of the pain might be. Patients need to see a doctor when their back pain noticeably increases and is chronic, if it feels worse at night, meaning that the pain is not a result of activity level, or if they have a family history of cancer. It is especially important to get medical help if the bowel and bladder also have dysfunction and if there is evidence of leg weakness and numbness. The combination of symptoms means that there is an increased likelihood of an indicator that it is the presence of potentially dangerous tumors that are causing the back pain.
Doctors will diagnose patients via the use of MRI, CT, X-ray, myelogram, and biopsy. The general medical treatments for malignant spinal tumors or benign tumors with the clear potential to become dangerous might be chemotherapy, medications, surgery, or radiation. This could include the employment of stereotactic radiosurgery, also known as SRS, which is targeted radiation.
CAM for Spinal Tumors
Complementary and alternative medicine, or CAM, can help provide some symptom relief. CAM is often useful in situations where back pain is the prevalent symptom and, in the cases where tumors are not the cause, it can be a very effective method of treatment. Unfortunately, the presence of malignant tumors is one of the situations where surgical treatment is most likely to be the only effective form of treatment. Acupuncture has been shown to help the patient manage their nausea and pain.5 Inflammation caused by the presence of irritation from the tumors can be reduced with corticosteroids, and physical therapy may also be necessary for patients to regain muscle strength. Tumors cause a lot of complications in a patient’s life, and they need support from their healthcare providers, friends, and family to recover.6
1, 2, 3, 5 http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/spinal-tumor/DS00594