Spinal tumors aren’t as common as other central nervous system tumors (like brain tumors), affecting about 35,000-55,000 Americans. But their effects can be devastating and life-threatening.
Anyone can develop a spinal tumor, but they do tend to occur more often in people with a history of cancer. Understanding where they form and the symptoms they cause helps you get care as early as possible.
A top-rated complex spine neurosurgeon in Roseville, Minnesota, David Chang, MD-PhD, DABNS, is skilled in diagnosing and treating spinal tumors, using an array of state-of-the-art techniques based on each person’s needs.
Here’s what he wants you to know about spinal tumors, where they form, and what symptoms to look for.
Not all spinal tumors are malignant (cancerous). Some tumors can be benign (noncancerous). What's more, while some tumors, called primary tumors, begin in the spine, others form outside the spine, then spread to the spine. These are called secondary spinal tumors.
Even though spinal tumors all affect the spine, they don’t all occur in the same part of the spine. In fact, these tumors are often categorized by where they form in relation to the spinal cord and the tough membrane surrounding it, called the dura.
Intramedullary tumors form inside the spinal cord, and they can be divided into different types. The most common type is called an ependymoma. Other types include:
Intramedullary tumors are less common than the other two types of spinal tumors that we list below.
This type of tumor forms inside the protective membrane (the dura), but outside the spinal cord itself. Like intramedullary tumors, intradural-extramedullary tumors can be divided into different types. The most common types of intradural-extramedullary tumors include:
Of these four types, meningiomas and schwannomas are the most common.
These tumors form inside the spinal column, but outside the dura membrane. As a result, they may not affect the spinal cord at all, instead causing problems with the spine bones (vertebrae).
Most extramedullary tumors are secondary spinal tumors, spreading from cancer elsewhere in your body.
Spinal tumors often cause similar symptoms, like chronic back pain or pain or numbness that radiates into your arms or legs. Some tumors interfere with bowel or bladder function or cause discomfort in other organs or organ systems.
Symptoms vary depending on the tumor’s location, its size, and your anatomy, among other factors.
In addition to reviewing your symptoms and your health history, Dr. Chang uses diagnostic imaging to look at your spine and the area surrounding it. If he spots a tumor, he may order a biopsy before prescribing treatment.
The location of a spinal tumor also plays a major factor in determining which treatment is best for you. Dr. Chang often recommends surgery for spinal tumors, especially tumors that are larger. After surgery, many patients undergo chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
For smaller tumors, Dr. Chang may recommend chemotherapy or radiation therapy first, instead of surgery.
Lots of problems can cause chronic or worsening back pain, not just tumors. The only way to know what’s causing your symptoms is to have your pain evaluated medically.
Ignoring back symptoms can allow an underlying problem to become worse, which is why early evaluation is so important. To find out why your back pain isn’t going away, call us at 651-219-7292 or book an appointment online with Dr. Chang today.