Spinal tumors can be cancerous or not. There are various treatment options.
What are Spinal Tumors?
Malignant (cancerous) or benign (not cancerous) tumors in the spine can happen either in the bones or within or close to the spinal cord. Some patients may experience back pain or spinal pain. Of course, most back pain is not caused by a tumor (abnormal mass of tissue). A growth in the back can cause pain or paralysis, and even “neurological problems” as it affects the nerves. It can be life threatening, or it might cause disability. Patients often have back pain or radiating pain (hip pain, leg pain, or pain in the arms and feet). They may also demonstrate muscle weakness and numbness. Some patients can have problems with bowel function, bladder function, and walking. Spinal tumors may also cause decreased pain, cold, and heat sensitivity. In severe cases, there might be paralysis (depending on where the nerves are pinched or compressed). Malignant tumors tend to grow more quickly than benign ones. The vertebrae (spinal bones) and spinal cord can be affected by tumors. The most common spinal tumors are vertebral, also called “extradural”. Those within the membranes covering the spinal cord are “intradural-extramedullary”, and 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, and 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 can be malignant or benign: meningiomas, schwannomas, neurofibromas, astrocytomas, or ependymomas.1 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).2
Treatments for Tumors of the Spine
Most back pain isn’t caused by a tumor or cancer, so doctors need to perform a differential diagnosis. Patients need to see a doctor when their back pain increases and is chronic, it feels worse at night (not due to activity level), or if they have a history of cancer. It is especially important to get medical help if the bowel and bladder also have dysfunction and if there is leg weakness and numbness. Doctors will diagnose patients (via MRI, CT, X-ray, myelogram, and biopsy). The general medical treatments for spinal tumors might be chemotherapy, medications, surgery, or radiation (including stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS), which is targeted radiation). Complementary and alternative medicine, or CAM, can help provide some symptom relief. Acupuncture has been shown to help with nausea and pain.3 Inflammation can be reduced with corticosteroids, and physical therapy may also be necessary for patients to regain muscle strength.4