Do you experience back pain that’s more intense at night? Does it often radiate to other parts of your body, such as your legs, thighs, and buttocks? Do you find it difficult to walk and maintain balance these days?
If you say yes to any of these questions, you might need to consult a healthcare professional—a neurosurgeon, to be specific—immediately. You may be suffering some of the symptoms of a tumor somewhere in your spine—a spinal tumor.
You may visit https://www.dickinsonneurosurgery.com/ or other similar platforms and schedule an appointment with a neurosurgeon. They will diagnose your condition to confirm whether you have a spinal tumor.
If you want to know more, you’re in the right place. This post will help you understand spinal tumors: causes, symptoms, and treatment options. So if you’re interested, read on to learn more.
What Is A Spinal Tumor?
A spinal tumor is an abnormal cell mass on or within the spinal column and spinal cord. It develops when the cells grow and multiply uncontrollably.
If a spinal tumor develops in the spine, it’s called a primary tumor; however, this is a rare occurrence. What’s common is a secondary or metastatic spinal tumor. This is a tumor caused by cancer spreading to your spine, particularly cancer in the lung, prostate, and breast.
How Are Spinal Tumors Classified?
Spinal tumors can be classified as benign or malignant. So what’s the difference between the two?
Benign Spinal Tumors
What comes to your mind when you hear the word tumor? Most people would probably think of cancers. It makes a lot of sense because tumors are often cancerous. But did you know that not all tumors are cancerous? These tumors are called benign tumors.
Benign spinal tumors are lumps in the spine that don’t contain cancer-causing cells. In other words, they’re noncancerous cells or cells that don’t cause cancer. They can’t also metastasize or invade nearby organs and other body parts.
Benign spinal tumors may not be cancerous, but that doesn’t mean they’re no longer considered a threat to your body. This is especially true if they’re formed near a particular organ. If left untreated, benign tumors might damage nearby organs and cause blood flow problems.
In most cases, benign tumors can be safely removed through surgery, with a success rate of over 90%.
Malignant Spinal Tumors
Malignant spinal tumors are cancerous tumors. These abnormal lumps contain cancerous cells or cells that can cause cancer.
Unlike benign spinal tumors, malignant tumors can metastasize or spread through other body parts, including organs, bones, and tissues. What makes them more dangerous is their ability to form again even after being removed.
If the tumor found on your body turns out to be malignant, your doctor will recommend immediate medical treatment. This is to dissolve the tumor as early as possible and prevent metastasis.
Where Can Spinal Tumors Develop?
A spinal tumor may develop in any of the following tissues in the back, including
- The bones that build up the vertebral column and the bone marrow within them
- The cartilage that preserves the spinal joints
- The spinal discs that act as a cushion between different bones in the vertebral column
- The blood vessels that transport oxygen and other essential nutrients to the vertebrae
- The peripheral nerves located outside the spinal cord
- The spinal cord
- The three layers of a membrane that covers the spinal cord: the arachnoid mater, pia mater, and dura mater
In terms of the tumor’s location, spinal tumors can be classified into extradural, intradural, and intramedullary tumors.
Extradural tumors are spinal tumors within the spinal column where the arachnoid, pia, and dura mater are located. Intradural tumors are located within the dura mater. Lastly, intramedullary tumors are intradural tumors located outside the spinal cord.
What Causes Spinal Tumors?
Experts still have no clue what causes or triggers the development of spinal tumors. Exposure to carcinogenic compounds and a compromised immune system may increase the risk of developing spinal tumors.
Since the immune system can be a growth factor for spinal tumors, genetics might be involved. For example, a family with a history of kidney disease might have a poor immune system, increasing their risk of forming spinal tumors, particularly spinal cord lymphomas.
Furthermore, spinal tumors are more likely to develop in people with the following genetic conditions, such as the following:
- Von Hippel-Lindau Disease: This is a rare genetic condition associated with benign tumors in the blood vessels (hemangioblastoma). These tumors can be found in the spinal cord, brain, and retina.
- Neurofibromatosis 2: In this genetic condition, benign tumors may form in one of the membranes that protect the spinal cord, particularly the arachnoid layer. If left untreated, it can lead to hearing loss.
What Are The Symptoms Of Spinal Tumors?
Symptoms of spinal tumors may vary depending on where tumors are located, which may also change if the tumor develops further. They often cause back pain that never gets better, no matter how many drugs and rests you take.
However, note that back pain is a common symptom and may not necessarily confirm the presence of a spinal tumor. In most cases, back pain is caused by other conditions affecting the spine, such as muscle strain, herniated discs, arthritis, pulled ligaments, osteoporosis, and spinal stenosis.
Unlike most cancers, these conditions aren’t life-threatening and can be treated safely. Below are some of the common symptoms of spinal tumors:
- Numbness in the legs, back, chest, and arms
- Having problems walking
- Having difficulty achieving and maintaining balance (even the simplest ones)
- Sciatica, a pain that radiates from the lower back down to the buttocks and legs
- Partial or complete paralysis of the body
- Weakened legs or arms
- Tingling in the legs or arms
- Spinal column deformities
- Scoliosis, a condition where the spine forms a curved shape due to misaligned spinal discs and large tumors
- Lack of sensitivity to heat, cold, and pain
- Inability to control bladder function
- Inability to control bowel movement
- Other symptoms, in addition to back pain, such as nausea, vomiting, sudden weight loss, chills, and fever
Consult a doctor right away if any of the following symptoms arise:
- Persistent and chronic back pain, especially when medications prescribed by your doctor are no longer working
- Worsening back pain, especially when the night comes
- Radiating back pain and compromising basic day-to-day functions, which can reduce your quality of life
- Other sensations (e.g., legs and arms start to weaken)
How Are Spinal Tumors Treated?
Spinal tumors can be treated via surgical operation, radiation, and chemotherapy. When it comes to severe conditions, a neurosurgeon might combine multiple treatment options to get rid of the tumor.
Chemotherapy uses a drug that can help dissolve spinal tumors and eradicate cancer-causing cells. This prevents tumors from growing, dividing, multiplying, and metastasizing.
The type of chemotherapy to be used may vary depending on the tumor’s condition.
- Adjuvant Chemotherapy: This is often performed after radiation therapy or surgery that involves removing the tumor to eliminate the remaining cancer-causing cells in the body.
- Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy: This is often performed before the tumor-removal surgery to lessen the size of the spinal tumor.
- Curative Chemotherapy: This type of chemotherapy aims to get rid of all the cancer cells in the body and ensure they don’t form again.
Chemotherapy isn’t an absolute treatment solution. It may fail to destroy all the tumors in the body, but it’s still beneficial. It helps reduce tumor size, prevent tumor growth, and spread through various body parts over time. Plus, it helps relieve symptoms and prolong the life of a patient.
In addition, you might feel nauseous after a session of chemotherapy. If that’s the case, you may consider using medical marijuana to treat possible side effects. But make sure it’s legal where you live before purchasing to avoid serious consequences.
Here are the following methods of receiving chemotherapy:
- Intra-Arterial: The chemo drug is injected into the artery, destroying cancer cells as quickly as possible.
- Injection: The chemo drug is given as a shot. It’s injected in any body part with a good muscle volume, such as arms, legs, buttocks, and abdomen.
- Oral: The chemo drug can be taken orally (via mouth) in liquid, capsules, and tablets.
- Intravenous: The chemo drug is administered directly to the vein. It also allows the drug to take effect as quickly as possible.
Your neurosurgeon will determine which of these methods is most effective for treating your condition.
Also known as radiotherapy, radiation therapy uses high doses of radiation beams (X-rays) to obliterate abnormal lumps of spinal cells and reduce tumor size by damaging their DNA.
When you damage the DNA structure of a cancer cell, it stops multiplying and eventually die. However, this doesn’t happen in an instant. The treatment might take days or weeks to be effective enough to kill cancer cells.
Below are the types of radiation therapy doctors can use to shrink the size of a spinal tumor:
- External Beam: This therapy uses a large machine that focuses radiation beams on your cancer cells. The machine won’t touch you during the process, but it’ll go around you to shoot radiation beams in all directions.
- Internal: This type of radiation therapy inserts a liquid or solid source of radiation inside the body near the tumor. Then it emits radiation inside your body, allowing them to shrink the size of a nearby tumor.
- Stereotactic Radiosurgery: This type of radiation therapy uses ultrafocused radiation beams to ensure that nearby organs and tissues won’t be damaged while targeting spinal tumors and cancer cells.
- Proton Beam Treatment: Unlike other types, this uses proton radiation beams to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Similar to stereotactic radiosurgery, it has ultrafocused beams that prevent damaging nearby structures while attacking tumors.
Radiation therapy is an effective cancer treatment. It can relieve cancer symptoms, slow cancer development, treat cancer, and prevent it from coming back.
The surgical operation helps remove spinal tumors from the body. While removing the tumor from the spine, some parts might get damaged. Spinal fusion may help reconstruct the damaged tissues and support the spine using bone grafts or screws.
Keep in mind that spinal surgery has several risks, such as bleeding, nerve damage, stiffness, and infection. These risks depend on the patient, so talk to your doctor and identify your risk level before the surgery.
After removing the entire or some of the tumor, your neurosurgeon will ask you to undergo radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy. This is to get rid of other remaining cancer cells in the body. Analgesics may also be prescribed to help you manage pain.
Medications And Support
Spinal tumors can cause pain and swelling, which can be managed by taking analgesics or steroids. Your doctor may also ask you to wear a supportive aid (e.g., a spinal brace) to improve the stability of your spine and reduce pain.
Among these treatment options, chemotherapy and radiation are often used to treat malignant tumors. Nonetheless, consider that treatment options may vary from person to person, depending on their condition.
How Are Spinal Tumors Diagnosed?
The process starts with a series of basic questions about the symptoms you’re experiencing. Then your doctor will check your medical history and conduct physical exams to confirm other symptoms, including the following:
- Spine tenderness
- Abnormal movements
- Weakened arms
Your doctor will also recommend undergoing radiological tests for a better and more accurate diagnosis. These include the following:
- X-ray: This process uses a small dose of radiation to create a picture of a specific body part using a film. X-rays may help identify tumors, but they’re not reliable when diagnosing spinal tumors.
- Computer Tomography Scan (CT scan): A CT scan can provide a clear image showing the size and shape of the spinal canal and nearby structures. It’s also excellent when it comes to visualizing bony elements.
- Magnetic Resonance Imagery (MRI): This is more powerful and advanced than a CT scan. It can produce three-dimensional images of spinal structures using magnets and technology. It can clearly show nerve endings, spinal cord, spinal degeneration, and tumors.
- Bone Scan: In this test, a healthcare professional will inject a radioactive substance into your vein to determine potential spine abnormalities.
Other diagnostic tests your doctor might require include myelogram, blood tests, and positron emission tomography (PET) scan.
Spinal tumors can cost you your life if left untreated. If you detect some of the symptoms above, consult a neurosurgeon immediately. If there’s a tumor in your spine, schedule an appointment as soon as possible to destroy it, reduce its size, remove it, and prevent its growth.