Definition

A spinal tumor is a growth in the area of the spine. The tumor may be in the bones of the spine, nerve tissue, or soft tissue around the spine.

The tumor can press on nerves and blood supply causing a health problem. It may be:

  • Benign—noncancerous and does not spread to nearby tissue
  • Malignant—cancer that can spread to nearby tissue and other parts of the body

Spinal Cord and Vertebra
nucleus fact sheet image

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes

The most common cause is the spread of cancer from other parts of the body. Any cancer in the body can spread to the spine. The cancers that do this most often are:

The cause of other spinal tumors is not always clear. It may be from genetics and the environment.

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of this problem are:

  • A weak immune system
  • History of cancer

Symptoms

Small tumors may not cause any health problems. Larger tumors may press on or affect nearby nerves or blood vessels. The most common health problem is back pain that was not caused by an injury. The pain may get worse over time and spread to the hips, legs, or arms.

Other health problems will depend on the area of the tumor. A person may have:

  • Problems sensing cold, heat, or pain in the legs, arms, or chest
  • Loss of muscle strength in the legs, arms, or chest
  • Problems using the arms and legs for basic tasks like walking
  • Loss of bladder and bowel control
  • Paralysis

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam may be done. Neurological tests may also be done to look for the source of back or neck problems.

Pictures of the spine will be taken. This can be done with:

Other tests may be done to learn more about the tumor.

Treatment

Treatment will depend on the type of tumor and where it is. Choices may include one or more of the following:

  • Monitoring a benign tumor that is not causing problems
  • Chemotherapy to kill cancer cells with drugs
  • Radiation therapy to kill cancer cells or shrink the tumor with radiation

Some people may need surgery to remove the tumor or to ease pain.

Prevention

There are no known guidelines to prevent this health problem.

RESOURCES:

American Association of Neurological Surgeons
http://www.aans.org

American Cancer Society
http://www.cancer.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Cancer Society
http://www.cancer.ca

Cancer Care Ontario
http://www.cancercare.on.ca

REFERENCES:

Spinal tumors. American Association of Neurological Surgeons website. Available at: http://www.aans.org/Patient%20Information/Conditions%20and%20Treatments/Spinal%20Tumors.aspx. Accessed October 28, 2020.

Spinal cord tumor. University of California San Francisco Medical Center website. Available at: http://www.ucsfhealth.org/conditions/spinal_cord_tumor. Accessed October 28, 2020.

Spinal tumors. University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center website. Available at: http://www.mdanderson.org/patient-and-cancer-information/cancer-information/cancer-types/spinal-tumors/index.html. Accessed October 28, 2020.

Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board James P. Cornell, MD  Last Updated: 10/28/2020