What is Spinal Tumor?
An unusual development of cells in and around the spinal nerves and spinal cord is known as a spinal tumor. They could be cancerous (malignant) and non-cancerous (benign) tumors. The functions of vertebrae, nerve roots, blood vessels, meninges and spinal cord are affected by these tumors. Permanent spinal cord or nerve damage can happen if malignant or benign spinal tumor is left untreated. Malignant tumor can even spread to other parts of the body as well. These tumors may also involve the structures of the spinal column or the spine. They are located at the low back (lumbosacral) or back (thoracic). They can occur from anywhere in the body or can also begin from the spine.
Types of Spinal Tumors
Intramedullary-Extramedullary Tumors: These tumors develop in the spinal canal but outside the nerves. Usually intramedullary-extramedullary tumors are non-cancerous and slow growing. Weakness and pain are the common symptoms of these tumors. The majority of these spinal tumors are-
- Nerve Sheath Tumors: These tumors occur from the nerve roots. This is non-cancerous tumor (benign) and sometimes neurological problems also occur after few years.
- Meningiomas: These tumors can be either malignant or benign and usually they take place in the membranes nearby the spinal cord. These tumors can be seen in elderly and middle age women.
Vertebral Column Tumors: Vertebral column tumors are generally metastatic and may also involve the bony vertebral column. The most common metastatic spinal tumors in men usually occur from the lung and prostate. In women, these tumors are from the lung and breast. These tumors may also occur from cartilage cells and bones and they do take place in the spine with less or little frequency. The benign bone tumor is known as Osteoid Osteomas and malignant bone tumor is known as Osteogenic Sarcoma.
These tumors develop from within the individual nerves or within the spinal cord. They usually occur from the cells which offer insulation and physical support for the nervous system. Both ependymomas and astrocytomas are the common ones that take place with same frequency. Intramedullary tumors are non-cancerous (benign) and usually occur in the cervical spinal cord.
Symptoms of Spinal Tumors
The symptoms of spinal cord tumors depend on their location and these symptoms occur when the tumor pushes on the nerves or the spinal cord that exit it. Blood flow to the spinal cord may also get restricted. Some of the symptoms include –
- Motor Problems: Muscle related symptoms can be caused by these tumors that obstruct nerve communication that include loss of control over the bladder or bowel and muscle weakness.
- Pain: The most well-known symptom of spinal cord tumor is back pain. Any pressure on the spinal cord may generate pain and a person may feel that pain is coming from the different parts of the body. The pain is constant and severe and can also result in burning or aching.
- Sensory Changes: These sensory changes may take form of tingling, numbness, reduced sensitivity cold sensations or temperature.
Causes of Spinal Tumors
Unregulated cell growth is responsible for causing malignant (cancerous) and benign (non-cancerous) tumors. Cancerous tumors (malignant) can metastasized from cancer in other body part or begin in the spinal tissue. Compromised immune system and Von Hippel-Lindai disease or Neurofibromatosis 2 (both are considered as hereditary conditions) can cause spinal tumors.
Diagnosis of Spinal Tumors
In order to determine the location and extent of the tumor, some tests are required. Another crucial factor for determining is other locations of the tumor that are inside the spine or from other tissues or organs.
- Plain Spinal X-rays
- Lumbar Puncture
- CTS with and without contrast dye
- MRI or MRA- angigram
- Electrical Conduction tests (used at the time of surgery)
- MRI with and without contrast dye
Treatment of Spinal Tumors
A neurosurgeon determines that a tumor is operable or not. The purpose of the surgery is to remove the tumor as much as possible without affecting any neurological function. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are of little help and in few treatments where protocols are provided. For treating benign and malignant primary tumors, surgery is usually recommended. Surgery is a successful treatment for removing tumors that are located outside the spinal cord.
The removal of vertebrae can also prove beneficial for easing pain and symptoms by decreasing pressure on the spinal nerves. The treatment of secondary tumors that has spread to the spinal cord depends on the kind of cancer. Radiation therapy is the main treatment for primary tumors where the spinal cord is compressed. For regaining strength and muscle control after surgery or radiation therapy, physical therapy is sometimes required.
Spinal Decompression Surgery
The surgery that uses different procedures for reducing symptoms due to compression or pressure on the nerves roots or the spinal cord is known as spinal decompression surgery. Thickened joints, collapsed or bulging discs, bony growths and loosened ligaments may narrow the spinal nerve openings and the spinal canal that also results in irritation.
Spinal Stenosis Surgery
When the spinal column narrows due to pressure on the spinal cord or narrowing of the neural foramina and where the spinal nerve exit from the spinal column is known as spinal stenosis.
Radiosurgery system is used in Cyberknife VSI technique. This technique delivers precise doses of radiation to spine tumors without affecting nearby structures and tissues. This technique can even treat inoperable tumors and cybeknife technique combined with chemotherapy and surgery can provide many benefits as compared to traditional radiation therapy. Some of its benefits include –
- Less recovery time and with no side effects
- Painless and non-invasive technique
- The technique targets the tumor without affecting or damaging the healthy tissues