What’s Behind Spinal Tumors?

The origins of spinal tumors vary. Some are primary tumors, meaning that they originated in the spine, while others develop as secondary, metastatic tumors, when a patient’s cancer starts in another part of their body. For example, a person originally diagnosed with breast, prostate, or lung cancer has a higher chance that their cancer will spread to the spine. 

Dr. Benjamin Cohen has vast experience treating patients with spinal tumors and, when possible, successfully removing them. If you’re suffering with symptoms of a spinal tumor or you’ve already been diagnosed with one, know that you will receive extraordinary care combined with a warm approach, from Dr. Cohen and our team. 

The different types of spinal tumors

There are three distinct types of primary tumors that develop in your spine.

Tumors that grow inside the spine are known as intramedullary tumors, vertebral column tumors start in the discs or bones of the vertebrae, and tumors that originate in the spinal canal are called intradural-extramedullary tumors. This type also develops outside of the spinal nerves, but underneath the membrane that envelops the spinal cord. 

What causes spinal tumors? 

Unfortunately, we understand little about why the majority of spinal tumors occur. However, we do know that genetic defects are linked to some, though we’re unsure whether the defects are inherited or if they just develop over the years. There’s also some suspicion that they may be linked to environmental causes, like exposure to particular chemicals. 

Spinal cord tumors are more common in individuals who have a rare hereditary condition called neurofibromatosis 2. These patients can develop spinal tumors in addition to benign tumors that develop on or around the nerves involved with hearing, which in turn can lead to hearing loss. 

Another rare condition linked to spinal tumors is Von Hippel-Lindau disease, in which blood vessel tumors develop in the brain, retina, and spinal cord, as well as adrenal gland and kidney tumors. 

Spinal tumor symptoms and complications

A rundown of spinal tumor symptoms includes pain at the tumor site, back pain that may radiate to other areas of your body and worsen at night, muscle weakness and numbness, and lessened sensitivity to heat, cold, and pain. When symptoms are severe, a spinal tumor can even provoke a loss of bowel or bladder control, limit your mobility, and even cause paralysis. 

When you have a spinal tumor, it can cause considerable pain by placing pressure on your spinal nerves and put you at risk for permanent nerve damage. You may be compromised in your ability to move or feel anything below where your tumor is. If a tumor puts pressure on your spinal cord, this can become life-threatening. 

The confounding thing about the back pain caused by spinal tumors is that it’s such a common symptom, people generally don’t think “spinal tumor” as they run through a mental list of back pain causes. 

How can spinal tumors be treated?

Since each spinal tumor is unique, Dr. Cohen invests significant time and energy into researching all the particulars of your tumor, including how fast it seems to be growing, its location, and learning all he can about your symptoms. 

Surgical solutions exist for both benign (noncancerous) and malignant (cancerous) spinal tumors. Although it’s a relief to learn that your tumor isn’t cancerous, a benign one can still grow to a size that puts undue pressure on your spinal nerves, causing pain and other symptoms, and they can be severe. 

If your tumor is malignant, Dr. Cohen may be able to remove it completely. If that’s not possible, standard cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation, may be prescribed prior to surgery or afterwards. 

The challenge that makes spinal tumor removal so delicate is that in addition to removing the tumor, or as much of it as possible, Dr. Cohen also works carefully to preserve your neurological functioning. Sometimes, surgical solutions other than tumor removal are called for, like spinal fusion and spinal decompression, and Dr. Cohen performs these procedures, as well.

Whenever possible, Dr. Cohen performs minimally invasive surgery, which requires just a couple small incisions, unlike open surgery. This type of procedure is associated with faster healing, less bleeding and scarring, and a reduced infection risk. 

If you have symptoms of a spinal tumor, schedule a telemedicine or in-office appointment with Dr. Cohen, or get in touch with us through our website

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