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Tumors of the Spine

Spinal tumors are abnormal growths located either within or surrounding the spinal cord or column. These masses, which often grow very quickly, can be benign or cancerous. In the case of cancerous masses, the spine can be the primary site of the cancer or the tumor may have spread or metastasized from another region.

Tumors may occur at any location in the spine from the cervical to sacral region. These tumors are not only identified by their point in the spine, but also whether they are positioned in the front or back of the spine. Tumors are classified as:

Intradural-extramedullary – These are masses that develop in the spinal cord’s arachnoid membrane, nerve roots that extend from the spinal cord and at the base of the spinal cord. Known as different clinical names, most of the tumors that arise from these areas are normally benign, but some can degenerate into cancer over time.

Intramedullary – These tumors are typically located in the cervical region of the spine and grow within the spinal cord or its nerves. A few rare intramedullary tumors also can develop in the thoracic region.

Extradural – Normally, these nerve root tumors are cancerous and have metastasized from another part of the body.

The spine is one of the primary sites for bone metastasis. Many primary cancers, such as lung, breast, prostate, can spread to the spine.

Symptoms of a spinal tumor include:

  • Non-mechanical back pain in the middle to lower back that does not improve with medication or therapy
  • Numbness/weakness in the limbs and chest
  • Loss of balance or ability to walk
  • Lack of sensitivity to heat or cold
  • Bowel and bladder dysfunction
  • Paralysis

Some tumors can be treated effectively with chemotherapy and radiation. In many cases surgery can remove the tumor and provide relief from pain and weakness. It depends on the location and type of tumor.

Primary spinal tumors may be successfully treated through what is called en bloc resection for a complete removal. When the tumor is more advanced or has metastasized from other locations, surgery may help relieve compression on the nerves, stabilize the region and restore neurological function.

At WakeMed, two procedures are used to help patients who have been diagnosed with spinal tumors:



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