Spinal Tumors are abnormal growths or mass of tissue surrounding or within the spinal cord. There are several different ways that are used to describe or identify spinal Tumors, and this depends on whether it is primary or secondary (also known as metastatic).
- Primary tumor is one that is found in the area in which it originated from, in this case the spine or spinal cord.
- Secondary (Metastatic) tumor develops as a result of cancer spread from another area of the body to the spina.
A spinal tumor can also be described based on whether it is benign or malignant.
- Benign spinal tumor has definite borders, clean edges and doesn’t infiltrate into healthy tissue. And although a benign tumor is not cancerous, it can be removed if it is causing symptoms or creating pressure on the spine. Benign spinal Tumors include schwannomas, meningiomas, osteoid osteomas and osteoblastomas.
- Malignant tumor is cancerous, and it spreads and infiltrate other tissue within the body. Malignant Tumors include Ewing sarcomas, chondrosarcomas and osteosarcomas.
Spinal Tumors are also categorized by their location within the spine.
- Intramedullary spinal Tumors: These types of Tumors tend to grow within the spinal cord itself or in the nerves that extend from the spinal cord such as the upper spine and neck (cervical spine). They are often ependymomas, astrocytoma’s or hemangioblastomas. These types of spinal Tumors are usually benign and hard to remove based on their locations.
- Intradural-extramedullary Tumors: These occur outside the spinal cord but within its protective covering (known as the dura). They are also benign and can be difficult to remove surgically due to their location, and they can also recur after treatment. They include meningiomas, Schwannomas or neurofibromas.
- Extradural Tumors: These are the most common types of spinal Tumors. They form outside the spinal cord, the cartilage of the vertebrae, and the dura in the bones. They are more of metastatic Tumors, and they usually spread from the cancer of the breast, lung, prostrate and kidney. They include osteosarcomas, osteoblastomas and osteoid osteomas.
Causes of Spinal Tumors
The causes of spinal Tumors are unknown, but it is suspected that genetics as well as the environment play a role.
Several spinal Tumors are linked to individuals who have these two genetic traits:
- Neurofibromatosis 2: This is a genetic condition in which benign Tumors develop near or on the nerves that are related to hearing. This can lead to loss of hearing in one or both ears. Some individuals with neurofibromatosis tend to also develop spinal canal Tumors.
- Von Hippel-Lindau disease: This is a rare multisystem disorder that is associated with blood vessel Tumors (hemangioblastomas) in the retina, brain and spinal cord with other types of Tumors in the adrenal glands or kidneys.
Symptoms of Spinal Tumors
Spinal Tumors can cause different symptoms, however, non-mechanical back pain (mostly in the middle or lower back) is the most frequent symptom of both benign and malignant spinal cord Tumors. The pain is not attributed to stress, injury or physical activity but increases with activity and can get worse when lying down at night. The pain may spread to the arms, hips, legs or feet and may worsen over time.
Other symptoms include:
- Muscle weakness or loss of sensation in the arms, chest or legs
- Pain at the site of the tumor due to the growth of the said tumor
- Back pain spreading to other parts of the body
- Loss of bowel or bladder function
- Spinal abnormality or scoliosis
- Difficulty walking
- Fluctuating degrees of paralysis
- Diminished sensitivity to pain, cold or heat
- Stiffness of the back or neck
Diagnosis of Spinal Tumors
Since spinal Tumors can be overlooked due to their symptoms resembling other common conditions, it is important for your physician to know your complete medical history and perform both general physical and neurological examinations.
If a spinal tumor is suspected, the following tests can help in confirming the diagnosis as well as pinpointing the tumor’s location:
- Computerized tomography (CT): This test produces detailed images of the spine using a narrow beam of radiation.
- Spinal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This type of test produces accurate images of the spine, spinal cord and nerves using a powerful magnetic field and radio waves. It is the preferred test to diagnose spinal Tumors and surrounding tissues.
- Biopsy: This is the only way to determine the exact type of spinal tumor by examining tissue samples under a microscope.
Treatment of Spinal Tumors
Treatment and prognosis of spinal Tumors usually varies depending on whether the tumor is primary or metastatic (secondary), benign or malignant among other factors.
Treatment options include radiation, chemotherapy, surgery or a combination of the three depending on the individual’s circumstances and the type of tumor present.
Preservation of neurologic function and controlling pain is an essential factor in treating spinal Tumors. That is why multiple treatment options are available, which range from surgery for correcting any spinal deformity or neural compression, to interventional techniques such as injecting bone cement into the damaged bones (during a procedure known as vertebroplasty) to help in strengthening the spine.
At King’s College Hospital Dubai, we focus on offering an exemplary service, from initial consultation through to final diagnosis and treatment and beyond. Our multidisciplinary team of expert doctors, nurses, physio therapists are here to offer tailored management and treatment of your condition, and to answer any questions that you might have throughout your time with us. Whatever you need us for, we’re only a phone-call away.
Dr Nicandro Figueiredo is considered the best Spinal Surgeon in Dubai.
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