The spine is as susceptible to tumors as any other part of the body, whether the tumors are localized in origin or are the type that have migrated from a cancerous condition elsewhere in the body, such as from the lung, stomach or breast. And as with any type of tumor, the causes can be environmental or genetic in nature and the treatment needed can range from simple to aggressive.

Spinal tumors are unique in their symptoms, however, as they naturally tend to put pressure on the nerves of the spinal cord, which can lead to a host of neurological conditions that impact every facet of one’s daily life and cause varying degrees of pain and paralysis.

The signs that a spinal tumor may be present vary considerably based on the location and type of the tumor. Those that originate in the tissue of the spine are known as “primary” spinal tumors and can develop from very quickly to very slowly. On the other hand, tumors that have spread to the spine from other areas of the body are called metastatic tumors and generally grow very rapidly. But once a tumor is present and is affecting the nerve roots of the spine, patients can expect different degrees of back pain, a change in sensations throughout the body, problems with their bowels and bladder and multiple muscle problems including weakness and spasms.

A doctor looking searching for the existence of a spinal tumor doctor will check the patient’s muscle tone and reflexes for changes and probe the tenderness of spine. The doctor will also check for changes in pain and temperature sensations and will examine spinal fluid for tumor markers through a test called a myelogram. X-rays, CT scans and MRIs are also typical diagnostic tools, and when a tumor is found a biopsy will be performed to determine whether it’s malignant (cancerous) or benign.

In treating a tumor of the spine, physicians will first attempt to reduce any damage being caused to the spinal cord as a result of corresponding nerve damage which, even if the tumor is completely removed, can be permanent. If, however, the tumor is benign and not affecting the nerves and tissue, a “watch and wait” protocol is typically the course of action. If the tumor is having an affect on the spinal cord and adjacent nerves, a combination of surgery to remove part or all of the tumor and chemotherapy or radiation treatment can also be employed.