Spinal tumor

Woman sitting at desk holding back

​​​​Your spinal cord is a group of nerve tissue enclosed by the vertebral bones of the spine. The spinal cord and the brain together make up the central nervous system. A spinal tumor is a growth or mass of cells located in or around the nerves, soft tissue or bones of the spinal cord. Spinal tumors are located in the neck (cervical), back (thoracic) or low back (lumbar or sacral). 

Tumors that begin in the spine are called primary tumors. A tumor that has spread from another part of the body to the spine is known as a metastatic or secondary tumor. 

Spinal tumors can be serious even if they are not cancer. As they develop and grow, they can cause severe problems by pressing against crucial parts of the spine. 

Spinal tumor causes and risk factors

There is currently no known cause of spinal tumors. Researchers are studying whether different factors like genetics, environment or occupation can lead to spinal tumors, but there are still many unanswered questions. Risk factors for spinal tumors may include aging, smoking or having a personal or family history of cancer.

Spinal tumor symptoms 

Spinal tumors can cause a variety of symptoms, depending on the type, location and size of the tumor.

Common symptoms of spinal tumors include:

  • Back pain that radiates to your legs or hips

  • Back pain that gets worse when you lie down, cough or sneeze

  • Back pain that worsens over time and is not relieved by pain medication

  • Cold sensation in your fingers, hands or legs

  • Loss of bladder or bowel control

  • Weakened muscles and decreased muscle function, especially in your arms and legs

Spinal tumor diagnosis

Early detection is important for effective treatment of a spinal tumor. Diagnosis typically begins with a physical exam to check your reflexes, muscle tone and any areas in which you're experiencing pain and discomfort. If further testing is required, it may include:

  • Bone scan—a radiology procedure used to look at the skeleton to find areas of physical and chemical changes in bone.

  • Computed Tomography scan (CT scan)—an imaging test that uses a computer and X-rays to make detailed images of your spinal cord.

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)—uses a magnet, radio frequencies and computer to look at structures inside your spine.

  • Myelogram—a diagnostic imaging test that uses a contrast dye and X-rays or computed tomography (CT) to look for problems in your spinal canal.

  • Positive Emission Tomography (PET scan)—a type of nuclear medicine imaging test used to examine body tissues and look at blood flow, metabolism and oxygen use.  

  • X-ray— uses electromagnetic radiation to make an image that can be viewed digitally on a computer or device.

Spinal tumor treatment 

At The Christ Hospital Health Network, we offer advanced treatment of spinal tumors. Depending on your diagnosis and treatment plan, your care team may recommend one or more of the following treatments:

  • Corticosteroid injections—medication used to reduce inflammation in spinal tissues.

  • Monitoring—for a small tumor that is noncancerous and isn't growing or pressing on surrounding tissues. Your doctor may decide to carefully watch for any changes in the tumor or your spinal function through periodic imaging scans.

  • Surgery—is recommended if the tumor is causing spinal compression, spinal instability or isn’t responding to other treatments. New technology and surgical techniques allow surgeons to remove tumors that were once inoperable. However, not all tumors can be removed completely. If your spinal tumor is malignant (cancerous), your cancer care team may recommend surgery. Learn more about spine and nervous system cancer

At The Christ Hospital Health Network, we customize your spinal tumor care using advanced technologies and treatments that will have the least impact on healthy tissue. 

Find a spinal tumor specialist near you.