Types of Spinal Tumors
A spinal tumor refers to an unusual mass of cells that accumulates in the spinal column. A tumor may be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). There are multiple types of spinal tumors, which are categorized by where they develop in the spine. For example:
- Intramedullary tumors occur within the spinal cord.
- Intradural extramedullary tumors occur within the membrane that covers the spinal cord, but outside of the spinal cord nerves themselves.
- Vertebral column tumors occur outside of the spinal cord on the vertebrae or discs of the spine
Tampa General Hospital’s Neuroscience Institute features an applauded team of neuro-oncologists, neurosurgeons and other experts who excel in treating all types of tumors that affect the central nervous system. Thanks in part to the world-class care we deliver to patients, TGH is ranked among the top 10% of hospitals in the nation for Neurology, Neurosurgery and Cancer care by U.S. News & World Report for 2023-24.
Spinal Tumor Causes
Primary spinal tumors—or tumors that originate in the spine—are relatively rare. Most of these tumors are metastatic, meaning they travel from another area of the body. Metastatic spinal tumors most often spread from breast, lung or prostate cancer. The exact cause of cancer is still unclear, although research points to a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Symptoms of Spinal Tumors
For any type of malignant spinal tumor, the first symptom is often localized back pain. This pain may be worse at night and unrelated to physical activity.
If the spinal tumor begins to press on the spinal cord and affects the nerves that radiate out to the extremities, the following symptoms can occur:
- Muscle weakness in the arms and/or legs
- Reduced sensitivity to heat, cold and pain
- Difficulty walking
- Loss of bladder or bowel function
While many types of primary spinal tumors are benign and grow slowly over a matter of years, the increasing pressure on the spinal cord, if left untreated, may result in permanent damage.
Diagnosing a Spinal Tumor
If a physician suspects a type of spinal tumor is present, one or more of the following tests may be used to confirm a diagnosis:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to create detailed images of the spine using a magnetic field and radio waves.
- A computerized tomography (CT) scan to produce images of the spine, which may be combined with an injectable contrast dye that highlights abnormalities.
- A biopsy to collect a small sample from the tumor for testing under a microscope.
Spinal Tumor Treatment
Spinal tumor treatment requires an especially high level of precision due to the risk of neurological complications. Patient outcomes and quality of life are often the best when treatment is provided by experts who have extensive experience with these unique and complex tumors.
The team of neuro-oncologists at TGH’s Neuroscience Institute creates individualized treatment plans for each patient and their particular symptoms. Treatment plans may include a combination of radiation therapy, chemotherapy and surgical excision. TGH incorporates advanced technologies into everyday practice, including minimally invasive, robot-assisted spine surgery, stereotactic guidance and intraoperative magnetic resonance imaging (iMRI) equipment, to help patients achieve optimal outcomes.
Become a TGH Patient
For a physician referral or to request an appointment at Tampa General Hospital, please call (800) 822-3627 or use our Find a Doctor database. Our team is here to answer your questions.