A spinal cord tumor refers to a growth that occurs in the cells of the spinal cord itself or the surrounding network including the meninges, vertebrae, and nerve roots. Spinal cord tumors are classified by where they occur, and their locations are related to their effects on the body, including any symptoms. Not all spinal cord tumors are cancerous but they are rare, and can be difficult to diagnose without the proper laboratory tests and imaging. As with all tumors, it is critical to obtain an accurate diagnosis as soon as possible.
The symptoms resulting from a spinal cord tumor may differ depending on the location of the tumor. For instance, a vertebral tumor impinging on a nerve root can cause radiating pain, while a tumor in the cord may cause loss of sensation or even paralysis in severe cases. Signs and symptoms may include:
- Pain at the site of the tumor
- Neck or back pain
- Pain radiating to other parts of your body
- Decreased sensation or a loss of sensation
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
- Decreased motor function, muscle weakness, or difficulty walking
Back pain is a common early symptom of spinal tumors. It is important to consult a doctor if you begin to experience symptoms without having undergone a significant life event, such as an injury.
The treatment of choice for spinal cord tumors is surgical removal whenever possible. Recent advancements in technology have increased the efficacy of many surgical procedures while reducing risks to the patient, but radiation therapy or chemotherapy may still be used in conjunction with surgery. In some cases, surgery and radiation are combined in a technique known as stereotactic radiosurgery to destroy the tumor with focused radiation rather than excision with a blade.