The symptoms of spinal cancer depend on several factors, including the tumor type, size, location and extent, as well as age, health history and more. Some common spinal cancer symptoms include pain, numbness, weakness and difficulty with urination. The symptoms of spinal cancer may occur very slowly. Other times, they occur quickly, even over a matter of hours or days. Metastatic spinal tumors, which have spread to the spine from another location in the body, often progress quickly.
A spinal tumor is a growth that develops within your spinal canal or within the bones of your spine. A spinal cord tumor, also called an intradural tumor, is a spinal tumor that that begins within the spinal cord or the covering of the spinal cord (dura). A tumor that affects the bones of the spine (vertebrae) is called a vertebral tumor. Spinal cord tumors may be classified as one of three different types depending on where they occur relative to the protective membranes of the spinal cord.
Tumors from other parts of the body can spread (metastasize) to the vertebrae, the supporting network around the spinal cord or, in rare cases, the spinal cord itself. Spinal tumors or growths of any kind can lead to pain, neurological problems and sometimes paralysis. A spinal tumor can be life-threatening and cause permanent disability. Treatment for a spinal tumor may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or other medications.
These are the main types of intradural tumors:
Spinal cord tumors can cause different signs and symptoms, especially as tumors grow. The tumors may affect your spinal cord or the nerve roots, blood vessels or bones of your spine. Signs and symptoms may include:
Back pain is a common early symptom of spinal tumors. Pain may also spread beyond your back to your hips, legs, feet or arms and may worsen over time — even with treatment. There are many causes of back pain, and most back pain isn’t caused by a tumor. But because early diagnosis and treatment are important for spinal tumors, see your doctor about your back pain if:
Seek immediate medical attention if you experience:
Spinal tumors sometimes might be overlooked because they’re not common and their symptoms resemble those of more common conditions. For that reason, it’s especially important that your doctor know your complete medical history and perform both general physical and neurological exams. If your doctor suspects a spinal tumor, these tests can help confirm the diagnosis and pinpoint the tumor’s location:
Ideally, the goal of spinal tumor treatment is to eliminate the tumor completely, but this goal may be complicated by the risk of permanent damage to the spinal cord and surrounding nerves. Doctors also must take into account your age and overall health. The type of tumor and whether it arises from the structures of the spine or spinal canal or has spread to your spine from elsewhere in your body also must be considered in determining a treatment plan. Treatment options for most spinal tumors include:
San Cristobal Cancer Institute offers a wide array of options to help our patients feel calm and supported during the process of screening, diagnosis and treatment, as well as getting back to life after cancer. Browse our alternatives for patients – including financial aid for those eligible – in our Patient Resources section.
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