Spinal Cord Tumor

1 What is Spinal Cord Tumor?

Spinal cord tumor is the condition in which there is growth of extra tissue within the spinal canal or within the bones of the vertebrae.

It may be benign (localized and covered by capsule, mild condition) or may be malignant (spreading to other places of the body and causing severe symptoms).

Spinal tumors can be of two types:

  • Intramedullary tumor - tumors of cells of spinal cord itself like astrocytes (astrocytoma) or ependymomas.
  • Extramedullary tumors -  tumors of the cells surrounding spinal cord like Schwann cells (schwannomas), meninges (meningioma) and neurofibromas.

2 Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of spinal cord tumor vary according to location and type of tumor and they include:

  • back pain spreading to other parts,
  • loss of sensation in extremities,
  • decreased sensitivity to heat or cold,
  • difficulty urinating or defeating and muscle weakness.

The development of the disease depends on the type of tumor, if it is benign, then the disease progresses slowly and if malignant, then spinal tumor develops rapidly.

3 Causes

The exact cause of spinal cord tumor is not known but researchers suggest that defective genes along with environmental factors may play an important role.

It has also been found to be associated with some inherited conditions like neurofibromatosis and von Hippel-Lindau disease. 

4 Making a Diagnosis

Diagnosis of spinal cord tumor should be accurately done using special methods and techniques.

Sometimes this disease is overlooked due to lack of symptoms and similarity to other conditions.

It is recommended to visit a neurologist who will perform a thorough physical and neurological check-up.

It will be important for the doctor know complete medical history of the patient for proper diagnosis.

Some additional tests may be performed include:

  • MRI of spinal cord (electromagnetic waves are used to create powerful images of tumors),
  • computerized tomography (CT),
  • Biopsy (a tissue of tumor is taken for pathological studies).    

5 Treatment

The treatment goal of the spinal cord tumor is to eliminate tumor completely and is accompanied by the risk of causing damage to the spinal cord and surrounding nerves.

Treatment options are as follows:

Monitoring

Some spinal tumors can be identified before they cause symptoms often while being evaluated for other conditions.

Surgery

This if most often the treatment of choice for tumors which can be removed but leaving a risk of spinal cord and nerve injury.

High powered microscopes are used to perform microsurgeries which make it easier to distinguish tumor and remove it.

Monitoring the function of spinal cord and other nerves should be done while surgery to minimize the risk of their damage. Unfortunately, even with the latest technology, some tumors can’t be removed completely.

Radiation therapy

This method is used to eliminate the remnants. of tumors that remain after surgery. It is also used as first line therapy for metastatic tumors (tumors which spread from other parts of the body to the spinal cord).

Severe nausea and vomiting are its adverse effects. A specialized type of radiation therapy called as photon beam therapy can be used to treat some vertebral tumors (tumor of bone of spinal cord).

Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS)

This method of delivering radiation uses high dose and has precise targets. In SRS, computers are used to focus radiation beams on tumors with high accuracy and from multiple angles.

SRS has some limitations because it can be used only against specific type of tumors and their size play an important role.

Chemotherapy

Astandard treatment for many types of tumors. Medicines are used in chemotherapy to destroy or stop the growth of cancer cells. Depending on the type, stage and location of tumor doctor will determine the beneficial effects of chemotherapy. Side effects include fatigue, nausea, vomiting and hair loss.

Other drugs

Corticosteroids are used to reduce the side effects caused by radiation therapy. 

6 Prevention

Since the causes are either unknown or hereditary, providing preventive measures become difficult.

The least that can be done is lead a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise and nutritious food.

7 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies

Although there are no alternative remedies that have been proved to cure spinal cord tumor, but some alternatives or complementary treatments may reduce some of the symptoms.

Acupuncture

In the procedure a practitioner inserts tiny needles into the skin at specific pressure points.

Research has shown that acupuncture reduces nausea and vomiting. Sometimes of reduces pain in some cases.     

8 Lifestyle and Coping

Lifestyle modifications are necessary in order to cope with spinal cord tumor.

The diagnosis of spinal tumor can be devastating but some of the following steps can be taken for better lifestyle:

  • awareness about spinal cord tumors,
  • understanding the condition of the oneself,
  • knowing limitations,
  • taking help from support groups online,
  • spending time with people with similar condition,
  • joining online discussion forums,
  • eating healthy diet rich in fruits,
  • vegetables and whole grains whenever possible.

9 Risks and Complications

There are several risks and complications associated with spinal cord tumor.

Neurofibromatosis, Von Hippel-Lindau disease and a prior history of other cancer conditions are some of the conditions that are found to be associated with spinal cord tumors.

Complications of untreated conditions are as follows:

  • loss of movement,
  • loss of sensations,
  • problems with bowel
  • and bladder function and permanent nerve damage.

This condition can be life-threating depending on the location and severity of the tumor.

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