What is a spinal cord tumor?

The spinal cord is a part of the central nervous system and runs down the back inside the vertebrae that form the backbone. Nerves branch off the spinal cord to travel into the body where they control actions and perceive sensations. Any abnormal growth in the spinal cord is called a spinal cord tumor. Spinal cord tumors can be noncancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant).

Whether they are benign or malignant, spinal cord tumors can still cause significant symptoms by pressing on the spinal cord. This interferes with the signals that travel from the brain, through the spinal cord, out to the body via spinal nerves, and back. Loss of function and sensation can result.

Spinal cord tumors can originate in the cells of the spinal cord (primary tumors) or can travel to the spinal cord from other parts of the body (secondary or metastatic tumors). Most primary tumors are benign. The majority of spinal cord tumors, however, are secondary tumors, and are often metastases from other locations in the body.

Treatment of spinal cord tumors depends mostly on the type of tumor and may consist of surgery, steroids, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

Complications of spinal cord tumors rarely result in emergencies, but spinal cord tumors are serious, and symptoms suggestive of them should be evaluated without delay. Seek prompt medical care if you notice progressive weakness, loss of sensation, loss of bladder or bowel control, muscle spasms, or unexpected back pain.

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of a spinal cord tumor?

Many of the symptoms of spinal cord tumors are related to the disruption of signals between the brain and the nerves below the tumor. Weakness, loss of sensation, or paralysis can result. Spinal cord tumors can also cause pain due to compression of the spinal cord and nerves.

Common symptoms of a spinal cord tumor

Common symptoms of spinal cord tumors include:

Read more about spinal cord tumorsymptoms

CAUSES

What causes spinal cord tumors?

The cause of many of the primary tumors of the spinal cord is not known, although some types do seem to run in families. Secondary tumors are commonly due to metastasis from cancers elsewhere in the body.

Few risk factors have been identified for the development of spinal cord tumors. Those that have been identified include having a cancer in another region of the body—such as Read more about spinal cord tumorcauses

TREATMENTS

How is a spinal cord tumor treated?

Treatment depends on the type of tumor and its location.

Goal of cancer treatment

The goal of spinal cord tumor treatment is to permanently cure the cancer or to bring about a complete remission of the disease. Remission means that there is no longer any sign of the disease in the body, although it may recur or relapse later.

Common treatments for spin... Read more about spinal cord tumortreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 30, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Brain and Nerves