A spinal tumor is a cancerous (malignant) or noncancerous (benign) growth that develops within or near your spinal cord or within the bones of your spine. Although back pain is the most common indication of a spinal tumor, most back pain is associated with stress, strain and aging — not with a tumor.
Extra precaution is needed when tumors (malignant or benign) are detected in your spinal region. A growth of any kind can impede on your nerves, leading to pain, neurological problems and sometimes paralysis.
A spinal tumor, whether cancerous or not, can threaten life and cause permanent disability. Yet advances in spinal tumor treatment offer more options than ever before.
- Back pain, often radiating to other parts of your body and worse at night
- Loss of sensation or muscle weakness, especially in your legs
- Difficulty walking, sometimes leading to falls
- Decreased sensitivity to pain, heat and cold
- Loss of bowel or bladder function
- Paralysis that may occur in varying degrees and in different parts of your body, depending on which nerves are compressed
- Scoliosis or other spinal deformity resulting from a large, but noncancerous tumor
The Spine Institute’s physicians take into account a patient’s age, overall health and the type of tumor before prescribing a course of treatment.
This is often the first step in treating tumors that can be removed with an acceptable risk of nerve damage. Newer techniques and instruments allow neurosurgeons to reach tumors that were once inaccessible. The high-powered microscopes used in microsurgery make it easier to distinguish tumors from healthy tissue. Doctors also can test different nerves during surgery with electrodes, thus minimizing nerve damage. In some instances, they may use sound waves to break up tumors and remove the remaining fragments.
Standard Radiation Therapy
This may be used following an operation to eliminate the remnants of tumors that can’t be completely removed or to treat inoperable tumors. Radiation may also be used to relieve pain or when surgery poses too great a risk. Neuroradiologists from the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, carefully administer a series of radiation treatments.
Stereotactic Radiosurgery (SRS)
This newer method, capable of delivering a high dose of precisely targeted radiation, is being studied for the treatment of spinal tumors. In SRS, doctors use computers to focus radiation beams on tumors with pinpoint accuracy, and from multiple angles. This approach has been proved effective in the treatment of brain tumors. Research is under way to determine the best technique, radiation dose and schedule for SRS in the treatment of spinal tumors.