A spinal tumor is an abnormal mass of tissue within or surrounding the spinal cord and spinal column, in which cells grow and multiply uncontrollably. Spinal tumors are classified by grade, origin and location. Spinal tumors are graded as benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Primary spinal tumors originate in the spine or spinal cord and secondary or metastatic spinal tumors are the result of cancer which has spread from another site in the body to the spine. Spinal tumors may also be referred to by the area of the spine in which they occur. These basic areas are cervical (neck area), thoracic (mid-back), lumbar (lower back) and sacrum (bone at the end of the spine). Additionally, spinal tumors are also classified by their location in the spine – anterior (front) and posterior (back).
Metastatic tumors are also called secondary tumors because they originate from another site such as the breast, lung, or colon. This is the most common type of tumor to occur in the spine. Any tumor that has the potential to metastasize can go to the spine but the most common solid tumors are breast, lung, prostate, and renal (kidney) cell. Hematologic (non-solid) cancers such as multiple myeloma and lymphoma also occur in the spine often. Metastatic tumors to the spine can cause severe pain, fractures, and neurologic problems such as weakness as well as paralysis, loss of sensation, and bowel bladder difficulties.
Primary spinal tumors are much less common, comprising less than 10 percent of all spinal tumors. Primary spinal tumors occur from the bone or soft tissue structures of the spine including cartilage or cells that give rise to the discs of the spine. Primary spinal tumors include chordoma, chondrosarcoma, osteosarcoma, giant cell tumor, or aggressive hemangioma.
Spinal cord tumors are tumors that arise from the spinal cord and/or nerve structures. They occur in the intradural space (within the spinal canal) and may be inside or outside of the spinal cord. Spinal cord tumors rarely metastasize outside of the spinal canal but can spread within the spinal canal. Spinal cord tumors include the following:
Symptoms for all types of spinal tumors are similar and include:
Diagnosis for all spinal tumors depends on imaging studies including MRI, CAT scan, and X-rays, as well as the patient’s medical history.
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