Spinal tumors are rare and are most often the result of a primary cancer metastasizing to the spine from another part of the body. However, sometimes tumors do form within the spine without being present elsewhere. When this happens, the tumor may be cancerous or it may be benign. In either case, the issue should be addressed immediately.
The spinal cord exists within the boney confines of the spinal canal. Any space-occupying lesion, including cysts and tumors, can compress adjacent structures and cause loss of blood supply and dysfunction. Benign spinal tumors can cause serious damage to your health and may even be life-threatening. Do not ignore persistent or progressive back pain.
When to suspect spinal tumors
Although back pain is extremely common, spinal tumors are rare. Far more common causes of back pain are spinal injuries like herniated discs, compressed nerves or bulging discs. However, if your back pain is accompanied by these symptoms, a tumor may be present:
- Pain worsens at night and radiates to different parts of the body
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
- Decreased sensitivity to hot or cold stimulus
- Muscle weakness in the legs
If your pain is not activity-related and does not respond to over-the-counter pain relievers, seek medical attention. Your physician will likely order an MRI, bone scan or CT scan to rule out the presence of a tumor.
How spinal tumors are treated
If you have a spinal tumor, the only cure is complete tumor removal. However, depending on your condition, complete removal may not be possible without causing more damage than the tumor itself is likely to cause. You and your physician need to weigh these risks. Typically, the risks depend on the accessibility and size of the tumor, whether similar type tumors grow rapidly, slowly or not at all, and whether the tumor is malignant or benign.
Once removal becomes medically necessary, your physician will likely schedule surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible. If surgery is not possible, or if parts of the tumor remain after surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy may be required. Your physician will probably also prescribe medicine, such as corticosteroids, to relieve inflammation and swelling that might be brought on by surgery or radiation.
Spinal tumors are nothing to ignore. If you think your back pain may be the result of a growth in your spinal region, seek medical attention as soon as possible.