A spinal tumor is an abnormal growth seen in the spinal column or inside the spinal canal. It may be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous) in nature. Tumors developing in the spinal column (vertebras) are known as vertebral tumors while the tumors originating in the spinal canal are called as spinal cord tumors.
Spinal tumors are generally divided into two classes according to the location of their origin. These are:
The spinal cord tumors are further classified into:
A tumor from another part of the body can also spread (metastasize) and affect the spinal column (vertebras) and the spinal cord as well, in rare cases.
Tumors in the spinal region lead to intense and chronic pain, neurological complications and even paralysis if the cancer grows.
There are various signs and symptoms that accompany a spinal tumor, however, the patient may experience a set of combination of these symptoms mainly depending on the type and location of the spinal tumor.
These are the commonly seen signs and symptoms of spinal tumors:
Pain in the back is the most common sign indicating towards a spinal tumor (benign and malignant). Pain may gradually spread from the back to the hips, legs, arms, shoulders, etc and worsen with time despite treatment.
Cancerous (malignant) spinal tumors are known to grow at a faster rate than non-cancerous (benign) spinal tumors.
It is advisable to see a doctor immediately in case any of the symptoms are felt.
Although the exact cause of the development of spinal tumors has not yet been identified there are several factors that are known to increase the chances of these tumors developing in the spinal region, such as:
Spinal tumors may, at times, be ignored as they might not exhibit any signs and symptoms, or the symptoms may be similar to another condition. It is therefore important for the doctor to know the patient's complete medical history in order to perform physical and neurological examinations.
The doctor may advise some of these diagnostic tests to confirm the suspicion of a spinal tumor:
Spinal Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Scan - This technique uses a combination of magnetic fields and radio waves to produce a detailed image of the spine. This image details the spinal cord, nerves and all other surrounding structures accurately and clearly.
At times, a contrasting dye may also be used to get an even more advanced and detailed image of certain spinal structures.
Computerized (CT) Scan - This technique uses advanced x-ray technology to produce detailed image of the spine. This test might also be performed after injecting a contrasting dye into a specific spinal structure to highlight it in the image, which makes it easier to identify abnormalities.
Biopsy - This requires the doctor to remove a small portion of the tumor for detailed analysis at the pathology laboratory. This helps to form the best-suited treatment plan for the particular case.
As is with most cancers there are several treatment methods available for treating spinal tumors. The doctor will take into consideration several factors which will help in determining the best and most effective plan of treatment for the individual case. The main factors are:
The main aim of every form of spinal tumor treatment is to remove the tumor completely (or as much as possible) without damaging (affecting) the surrounding structure of nerves and spinal cord.
These are the carious spinal tumor treatment methods:
This is the most common form of treatment initially adopted to treat spinal tumors. This technique is used when the doctor/neurosurgeon is definite that the removal of the spinal tumor will not affect (damage) any of the surrounding structures (nerves, spinal cord, etc).
Microsurgical techniques have broadened the area of surgery for many spinal tumors that were hitherto inaccessible by surgical methods. Powerful microscopes used in this surgery help the surgeon to indentify the cancerous tissue and the healthy tissue distinctly. Some advanced surgical techniques also use high-frequency radio waves to break (disintegrate) the tumor first and then use minimally invasive surgical methods to remove the smaller parts if the tumor completely.
This technique uses high-frequency radiation beams to destroy the cancerous cells. This treatment might not be used to remove the tumor itself but it is most useful in eliminating the remains of tumors after surgical removal, treating tumors that are not removable surgically as well as disintegrating tumors that can then be easily removed using surgical methods.
Radiotherapy may also be used to relieve symptoms of spinal tumors, such as pain.
This is an advanced method of cancer treatment. It uses several beams of low-dose radiation to be focused from various angles on to the tumor in the spine which can then be destroyed by the combined power of the total radiation beams.
This is a more precise and accurate form of radiotherapy.
This technique uses specially-designed drugs that target and destroy the cancerous cells to treat spinal tumors or to stop their growth. This is mostly performed in combination with radiotherapy for optimum results.
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