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Spinal Cord Tumors

A spinal cord tumor, also called an intradural tumor, is a tumor that begins within the spinal cord or the covering of the spinal cord. The two main types of intradural tumors are intramedullary tumors and extramedullary tumors. Intramedullary tumors begin in the cells within the spinal cord itself, these include gliomas, astrocytomas, or ependymomas. Extramedullary tumors either grow in the membrane surrounding the spinal cord or the nerve roots that reach out from the spinal cord itself and can affect spinal cord function by causing spinal cord compression and other problems. Types of extramedullary tumors that can affect the spinal cord include meningiomas, neurofibromas, schwannomas, and nerve sheath tumors. In some cases, tumors from other parts of the body can spread to the spinal cord or other parts of the spine.

Spinal cord tumors can lead to pain, neurological problems, and even paralysis. They can be life-threatening and even cause permanent disability. Treatment for a spinal cord tumor can include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or other medications. These tumors can cause different signs and symptoms, especially as they grow. Signs and symptoms of a spinal cord tumor may include pain at the site of the tumor due to growth, back pain that often radiates to other parts of the body, less sensitivity to pain, heat, and cold, loss of bowel or bladder function, difficulty walking that sometimes leads to falls, back pain that gets worse at night, loss of sensation or muscle weakness, especially in the arms or legs, and varying degrees of muscle weakness in different parts of the body.

There are many causes of back pain, and most of them aren’t due to a tumor. However, early diagnosis and treatment is important for spinal cord tumors, so it is imperative to see a doctor if back pain is persistent or progressive, not activity-related, gets worse at night, if the individual has a history of cancer or develops new back pain, or if the patient has other symptoms of cancer such as nausea, vomiting, or dizziness. Seek immediate medical attention for progressive muscle weakness or numbness in the arms or legs or changes in bowel or bladder function.