A spinal tumor is an abnormal mass of tissue within or surrounding the spinal cord and spinal column. These cells grow and multiply uncontrollably, seemingly unchecked by the mechanisms that control normal cells. Spinal tumors can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Primary tumors originate in the spine or spinal cord, and metastatic or secondary tumors result from cancer spreading from another site to the spine.

Spinal tumors may be referred to by the area of the spine in which they occur. These basic areas are cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacrum. Additionally, they also are classified by their location in the spine — anterior (front) and posterior (back). Clinically, they are divided into three major groups according to location: intradural-extramedullary, intramedullary and extradural.

Intradural-extramedullary: These tumors develop in the spinal cord's arachnoid membrane (meningiomas), in the nerve roots that extend out from the spinal cord (schwannomas and neurofibromas) or at the spinal cord base (filum terminale ependymomas). Although meningiomas are often benign, they can be difficult to remove and may recur. Nerve root tumors are also generally benign, although neurofibromas may become malignant over time. Ependymomas at the end of the spinal cord can be large, and the delicate nature of fine neural structures in that area may complicate treatment.

Intramedullary: These tumors grow inside the spinal cord or individual nerves, most frequently occurring in the cervical (neck) region. They typically derive from glial or ependymal cells that are found throughout the interstitium of the cord. Astrocytomas and ependymomas are the two most common types. They are often benign, but can be difficult to remove. Intramedullary lipomas are rare congenital tumors most commonly located in the thoracic spinal cord.

Extradural: These lesions are typically attributed to metastatic cancer or schwannomas derived from the cells covering the nerve roots. Occasionally, an extradural tumor extends through the intervertebral foramina, lying partially within and partially outside of the spinal canal.

Spinal Tumors Overview

  • Metastatic spinal tumors

  • Pediatric spinal tumors

  • Incidence and Prevalence

  • Causes

  • Diagnosis

  • Symptoms

  • Nonsurgical treatment

  • Typical Outcome

  • Surgery

  • Recovery

Education

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