What is Spinal Cancer?

Spinal cancer is the growth of one or more malignant tumors within the spinal column. Tumors that originate in the spine (known as “primary” tumors) are relatively rare—most cancers travel (metastasize) to the spine from other areas of the body, most notably the breasts, lungs and prostate. 

A full scope of care for spinal cancer and other complex diseases is available at Tampa General Hospital’s Neuroscience and Cancer institutes. Thanks in part to our innovative and patient-first approach to neurological cancers, TGH is ranked among the top 10% of hospitals nationwide for Neurology, Neurosurgery and Cancer care by U.S. News & World Report for 2023-24.

Causes of Spinal Cancer

The specific cause of spinal cancer isn’t well understood. However, researchers have identified a few factors that may increase a person’s risk for developing malignant spinal tumors, including:

  • Having a compromised immune system
  • A personal history of cancer or radiation therapy treatment
  • Frequent exposure to certain industrial chemicals
  • Having certain inherited disorders, such as Von Hippel-Lindau disease and neurofibromatosis (NF2)

Symptoms of Spinal Cancer

The main symptom of spinal cancer is pain around the area of the tumor. As the cancer grows, it can compress surrounding spinal nerves and trigger symptoms like: 

  • Back pain that’s worse at night or radiates to other parts of the body
  • Numbness, muscle weakness or tingling sensations, particularly in the arms or legs
  • Trouble walking
  • Loss of bladder or bowel function
  • Reduced sensitivity to heat, cold and pain

Spinal Cancer Diagnosis

Diagnosing spinal cancer begins with a thorough physical exam to assess back pain and neurological symptoms. If a physician suspects a spinal abnormality is present, one or more imaging tests—such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), an X-ray or a computed tomography (CT) scan—may be ordered to screen for tumors. From there, a tumor biopsy can be performed to test a small sample of cells for cancer.

Spinal Tumor Treatment

Treatment for spinal cancer will depend on what type of tumor is present, the cancer’s stage and the patient’s overall health. A spinal cancer treatment plan may include a combination of:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery to remove all or a portion of a spinal tumor
  • Medications and therapies to help ease symptoms like back pain

TGH’s Neuroscience Institute is pleased to offer the latest breakthroughs in spinal cancer treatment, including robotic-assisted, minimally invasive spine surgery and stereotactic-guided procedures.

Become a TGH Patient

Contact Tampa General Hospital at (800) 822-3627 for physician referrals, appointment scheduling or to learn more about our advanced approach to spinal cancer treatment. You can also use our Find a Doctor database to find a spine specialist.