What is a Spinal Tumor?
The term “spinal tumor” refers to a range of growths that can form in, on, or around the spinal column. Metastatic spinal tumors are typically tumors that form as a result of a remote primary cancer that has metastasized or spread to the spine.
The spine is one of the most common areas where tumors metastasize. Though some patients may not experience significant symptoms of metastatic spinal disease, others may have a number of health and mobility problems related to their spinal tumors if not treated effectively.
Symptoms of a Metastatic Tumor to the Spine
The earliest symptom of spinal metastases is usually mild back pain that becomes gradually more severe over time. The pain may vary in type and severity depending on where the tumor is located – it could be inside the spinal cord (called an intramedullary tumor), grow outside the spinal cord and within the vertebral column (an extradural tumor), or grow outside the spinal cord and within the dural space (intradural-extramedullary tumor). The dura is a thin layer that protects the spinal cord and contains cerebral spinal fluid which bathes and protects the fragile spinal cord. Symptoms occur when critical neural elements are compressed by the tumor or when the bony elements that surround and protect the spinal cord are affected by tumor growth.
Other symptoms may include:
- Loss of sensation in various parts of the body (depending on which level of the spine harbors the tumor)
- Muscle weakness (AKA paresis)
- Loss of bowel and/or bladder control
“Our ability to control metastatic disease within the brain and spine at the JD Lipani Radiosurgery Institute is exceptional with success in 98% of our patients. In many cases, we provide an effective alternative to whole brain radiation therapy in an effort to prevent injury to healthy brain function. The result is the preservation of motor, sensory, and cognitive function in our patients.”
– Dr. Lipani
Treatment and Surgery Options for Spinal Metastases
The appropriate treatment for metastatic spinal tumors depends on the type of tumor and its location within the spinal column. Though some spinal tumors may require surgical excision, many others can be treated with chemotherapy or minimally-invasive or non-invasive treatment methods.
Because metastatic spinal tumors are actually a type of cancer from a different part of the body, the treatment is often influenced by the cancer type and its sensitivity to various treatment strategies. For example, some tumors may respond well to chemotherapy and/or radiation while others may require surgical resection. Furthermore, if the vertebral column is affected to the point at which spinal stability is compromised, surgical reconstruction and stabilization may be required.
Common treatment options include:
- Over-the-counter or prescription medication to control pain
- Radiation therapy
- Radiosurgery. An advanced and non-invasive treatment option that utilizes highly-focused and accurate beams of radiation to destroy tumors without damaging sensitive surrounding tissue. Patients who undergo radiosurgery have virtually no recovery time and may experience pain relief within hours of treatment. Radiosurgery is also able to treat stubborn tumors more effectively and safely compared to radiation therapy. Radiosurgery can also often be used as an alternative to conventional open surgery with no inpatient hospital requirement and with improved quality of life during treatment.