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Spinal Tumor



A spinal tumor is a growth in the area of 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 problems. 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    TOP

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    TOP

Factors that may raise your chance of spinal cancer are:

  • A weak immune system
  • History of cancer

Symptoms    TOP

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. You may have:

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

Diagnosis    TOP

You will be asked about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam may be done. Your doctor may also do some neurologic tests to look for the source of your back problems.

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

After the tumor is confirmed, a biopsy may be done. A small piece of the tumor will be removed and tested to find out if it is cancer.

The biopsy and additional pictures will help your doctor learn more about the tumor. Staging helps describe cancer. It may uncover the size of the tumor and whether it has spread. Staging will help your doctor make the most effective plan.


Treatment    TOP

Treatment will depend on the type of tumor and where it is. You may have:


Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be given in many forms, such as pill, injection, and catheter. The drugs travel through the bloodstream to kill cancer cells, but some healthy cells are also killed.

It may be used as the only treatment or with other treatments such as surgery.


Radiation therapy is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells or shrink the tumor. It may be able to reduce the size of the tumor. This may be a cure or will decrease symptoms. Radiation may also be used to shrink the tumor before surgery.

There are many forms of radiation. The one you have depends on the location of the tumor and goals of treatment. The goal is to send the right amount of radiation to the tumor without harming too many of the nearby healthy cells.

Surgery    TOP

Surgery is not an option for all. The site and size of the tumor and its progress will all be considered before surgery. Surgery may be done as:

  • Cure for cancer if the cancer started in spine
  • Part of cancer treatment with chemotherapy or radiation
  • Treatment to try to ease pain or disability
  • Treatment for tumors that do not get better with chemotherapy or radiation

Observation    TOP

Benign tumors that are not causing symptoms, or have mild symptoms, may not need treatment. The tumor will be monitored to look for any changes.


Prevention    TOP

Spinal tumors can’t be prevented.


American Association of Neurological Surgeons

American Cancer Society


Canadian Cancer Society

Cancer Care Ontario


Spinal tumors. American Association of Neurological Surgeons website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed July 20, 2018.

Spinal cord tumor. University of California San Francisco Medical Center website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed July 20, 2018.

Spinal tumors. University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed July 20, 2018.

Last reviewed May 2018 by James Cornell, MD
Last Updated: 7/20/2018

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