A spinal tumor is a malignant or benign growth that forms in the spinal cord or within the bones of the spine themselves. When it develops in the spinal cord or in the covering on the spinal cord, it’s known as an intradural tumor. When the growth develops in in the spinal vertebrae, it’s known as a vertebral tumor.
There are two main classifications of intradural tumors: intramedullary and extramedullary. Their classification depends on where they develop in relation to the spinal cord’s protective membranes. Within the two classifications, there are several types of tumors.
Intramedullary tumors begin in the cells of the spinal cord. Types of intramedullary tumors include astrocytoma, ependymoma, and glioma.
Extramedullary tumors develop in the membrane around the spinal cord or in the nerve roots within the spinal cord. These types of tumors include meningiomas, neurofibromas, schwannomas, and nerve sheath tumors. Extramedullary tumors can cause spinal cord compression and other issues that affect spinal cord function.
Any type of spinal tumor can cause pain, neurological problems, paralysis, and sometimes permanent disability. They can also be life-threatening.
Signs and Symptoms
Spinal cord tumors grow at different rates, but signs and symptoms are more likely to be present when the tumors grow larger. This is because the larger the tumor is, the more it may press on the spinal cord, nerve roots, blood vessels, or vertebrae.
An early symptom is back pain that can spread to the hips, legs, feet, or arms. Back pain may also get worse at night. Other possible signs and symptoms at any point during the tumor’s progression are:
- Muscle weakness or loss of sensation in the arms, legs, and other parts of the body due to nerve compression
- Loss of bowel or bladder function
- Decreased sensitivity to pain, heat, and cold
- Pain at the site of the tumor in the spine
- Difficulty walking and frequent falls
Most back pain isn’t caused by a spinal tumor, but early diagnosis can make treatment more effective if a tumor is present. For this reason, if your back pain is persistent, becomes worse with time, is more intense at night, or causes other symptoms as listed above, you should seek the expertise of a physician or spine specialist as soon as possible.
As with most cancerous tumors, if caught early, a spinal cord tumor can be treated aggressively to prevent any additional growth, spreading, or loss of nerve function. At Kelsey-Seybold Spine Center in Houston, our specialists have the expertise and state-of-the-art equipment to accurately diagnose spinal cord tumors and work with oncologists to develop an individualized treatment plan.