Spinal Problems Tumors

Spinal tumors, which are uncommon, can occur in or near the spinal cord or within the bones of the spine. Tumors can be cancerous (malignant) or noncancerous (benign). Causes of many spine tumors and spinal cord tumors are unknown, although researchers suspect that they have a genetic link: Those with a family history of spinal cancer are more likely to develop a spinal tumor themselves.

According to the University of Washington Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine Department, more than 95 percent of cases of spinal cancer are metastatic, meaning that the cancerous cells have spread from other parts of the body to cause a spine tumor.

Both noncancerous and cancerous spinal tumors can compress spinal nerves, leading to a loss of movement or sensation below the level of the tumor, and sometimes changes in bowel and bladder function. Nerve damage is often permanent, and disabilities may continue even after the tumor is removed. Depending on its location, a tumor that impinges on the spinal cord itself may be life-threatening.

Symptoms of a Spinal Tumor

Back pain is the most common symptom of a spinal tumor. The pain often spreads to other parts of the body, and can worsen at night.

Other possible spinal tumors symptoms include:

  • Decreased sensitivity to pain, heat and cold
  • Difficulty walking, sometimes leading to falls
  • Loss of bowel or bladder function
  • Loss of sensation or muscle weakness, especially in the legs
  • Paralysis that may occur in varying degrees and in different parts of your body, depending on which nerves are compressed.

Extradural Spinal Tumors

Extradural (vertebral) tumors occur between the vertebrae of the spine. Most malignant (cancerous) extradural spinal tumors have spread to the spine from another site in the body.

However, cancerous tumors that can begin in the bones of the spine include:

  • Ewing’s sarcoma, an aggressive tumor that affects young adults
  • Multiple myeloma, a cancerous disease of the bone marrow that mostly affects older adults
  • Osteosarcomas (osteogenic sarcomas), the most common type of bone cancer in children.

Non-cancerous extradural tumors, which can cause chronic pain, spinal curvature and neurological problems, include:

  • Hemangiomas
  • Osteoblastomas
  • Osteoid osteomas.

Intradural-Extramedullary Tumors

Intradural-extramedullary tumors develop in the arachnoid lining, one of the membranes (meninges) that protects the spinal cord. Some of these tumors are:

  • Filum terminale ependymomas, tumors at the base of the spinal cord base that are often large.
  • Meningiomas, which occur most often in middle-aged women. Although almost always noncancerous, meningiomas can be difficult to remove and sometimes grow back.
  • Schwannomas and neurofibromas, tumors that occur in the nerve roots that extend out from the spinal cord. Nerve root tumors also are generally noncancerous, although neurofibromas can become cancerous over time.

Intramedullary Spinal Cord Tumors

Intramedullary spinal cord tumors can be either malignant or benign, and develop within the cells of the spinal cord. Most intramedullary tumors are either astrocytomas, which mainly affect children and adolescents, or ependymomas, which are the most common type of spinal cord tumor in adults.

Treatment for Spinal Tumors

If a spinal tumor is found before it causes symptoms, and it’s a small, noncancerous tumor that isn’t growing or pressing on surrounding tissues, observation may be the treatment of choice.

For growing, symptomatic or malignant spinal tumors, surgery is often the first step if the tumor can be removed without causing severe nerve damage. However, not all tumors can be completely removed.

For cancerous tumors, treatment options include radiation, chemotherapy and other cancer treatments.


Mayo Clinic Staff (2009). Spinal cord tumors. Retrieved March 24, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/spinal-tumor/DS00594

Ogden, A. T. (2009). Intramedullary spinal cord tumors. Retrieved March 24, 2010, from http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/251133-overview

University of Washington Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine Staff. (2009). Surgical treatment of spine cancer. Retrieved March 24, 2010, from http://www.orthop.washington.edu/uw/spinetumors;/tabID__3347/ItemID__285/PageID__2/Articles/Default.aspx