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Spinal Tumors

Spinal Tumor Symptoms and Causes

The Spine Center at North Shore-LIJ Health System’s Cushing Neuroscience Institute works closely with the medical and radiation oncologists and social workers at the North Shore-LIJ Cancer Institute to provide the highest quality of care for the diagnosis, treatment and support of people with spinal tumors.

The expert team of neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons, physiatrists, nurses and therapists at The Spine Center provides comprehensive spine evaluations, individualized treatment plans and innovative technologies. Spinal treatments may include surgery, pain management, physical therapy and injections.

The three most commonly used treatments are surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.

Spinal Tumors: An Overview

Tumors that originate in the spine (primary tumors) are rare. They can be either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous) and are caused by out-of-control growth among cells that reside in the spinal column or neural tissues. Some spinal tumors are the result of cancer that has spread from other parts of the body (secondary or metastatic tumors). Secondary spinal tumors are, by nature, malignant as they have arisen from cancerous tumors elsewhere in the body.

What Are the Types of Spinal Tumors?

The common types of benign and malignant spinal tumors are:

Benign Spinal Tumors

  • Osteochondroma is a slow growing tumor of the cartilage that usually affects adolescents. An uncommon tumor, osteochondromas are usually found in the posterior (rear) spine.
  • Osteoid Osteoma is a small bone tumor (less than 2 cm). It usually affects adolescents, causes night pain and may result in spinal deformity.
  • Osteoblastoma affects children and adolescents. These tumors can be large, aggressive and painful, sometimes causing spinal deformity and paralysis.
  • Aneurysmal Bone Cysts (ABCs) typically cause pain and swelling and usually affect children and adolescents. These tumors can be large and quite vascular.
  • Giant Cell Tumor is known to affect children, adolescents and young adults. These tumors can be found at the cervical, thoracic or lumbar segments of the spine, but are more common in the sacrum.
  • Hemangioma occurs most often in the thoracic spine. These tumors affect adults and are known to be progressive vascular masses that can cause vertebral collapse and paraparesis (slight paralysis).

Malignant Spinal Tumors

  • Plasmacytoma presents in middle aged and older adults. These tumors are common in the pedicle and vertebral body and may cause paraparesis (slight paralysis).
  • Ewing's Sarcoma is an aggressive tumor affecting adolescents and young adults. In some cases, it may metastasize.
  • Lymphoma may present in one or more vertebral bodies in middle aged or older adults. Sometimes the lymphatic system is involved.
  • Chondrosarcoma is a tumor affecting spinal cartilage in middle-aged adults. It grows slowly but can be dangerous. Usually, aggressive medical intervention is required.
  • Osteosarcoma is bone cancer found in adolescents and middle-aged adults. These tumors may metastasize and require aggressive medical therapy.
  • Chordoma is usually seen in adults. Although chordoma can affect other parts of the spine, it involves the sacrum 50 percent of the time. These tumors often require aggressive medical therapy.

Spinal tumors are also classified by the part of the spine where they are located. From the neck down to the point where the spinal column joins with the pelvis, these classifications are

  • Cervical
  • Thoracic
  • Lumbar
  • Sacrum

What Are Spinal Tumor Symptoms?

Back pain is the primary symptom of a spinal tumor. Other symptoms include:

  • Sciatica
  • Numbness
  • Paraparesis (slight paralysis)
  • Spinal deformity (e.g. scoliosis, kyphosis)
  • Fever

Please note that neck or back pain does not always indicate tumor presence. However, early medical intervention is always warranted, if spine pain does not resolve or if other neurologic symptoms are experienced.

What Are the Causes of Spinal Tumors?

Causes of primary spinal tumors are largely unknown. However, some causes may be:

  • Neurofibromatosis
  • Exposure to radiation or cancer-causing chemicals

Secondary spinal tumors are the result of the spread of cancer from elsewhere in the body.

Spinal Tumors Clinical Trials

The North Shore-LIJ Cancer Institute offers a full array of clinical trials. The result of this research not only impacts survival, but also enhances the quality of life. For more information about clinical trials for Spinal Tumors, visit Cancer Clinical Trials.

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