Vertebral Tumor

1 What is Vertebral Tumor?

Tumors that affect bones of spine are known as vertebral tumors. Spinal cord tumor is the growth that develops in the spinal canal or within the bones of spine. It may be cancerous or non-cancerous. 

2 Symptoms

Symptoms of vertebral tumor include:

  • back pain,
  • loss of sensation especially in the lower part of the body,
  • difficulty walking,
  • decreases sensitivity to pain,
  • heat and cold,
  • loss of bowel or bladder function,
  • muscle weakness that may occur in varying degrees and in different part of the body.

Pain mostly occurs in the back in the early period and later spreads to lower extremities.

3 Causes

It is not clear what causes vertebral tumor, however, it can be a result of metastasis from other tumors or due to neurofibromatosis.

Vertebral tumors can also occur as a result of mutational disorders, exposure to ionizing radiation, chemical toxins such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, chronic smoking, alcohol intake and oncogenic viruses.

4 Making a Diagnosis

For proper diagnosis of vertebral tumor complete medical history, general physical and neurological examination will be important. Vertebral tumor may be overlooked due to their common symptoms that resemble other common conditions. 

If a tumor is suspected in the vertebral column, following tests will be necessary to be performed to prove the diagnosis:

  • MRI - this procedure uses magnetic field to produce detailed picture of the spinal cord.
  • Computerized tomography (CT) - This creates cross-sectional images of the spinal cord and yields better picture of the location of tumor.
  • Biopsy - To determine the nature of the tumor, a small sample of the tumor is taken and pathological examination is done.

5 Treatment

The goal of the treatment for vertebral tumor is to eliminate the tumor and remove some healthy tissue surrounding it. This will prevent further relapse of the tumor growth.

This procedure has a dangerous risk of damage to the spinal cord or surrounding nerves. Before choosing any surgical procedure some things like age, overall health, type of tumor, location of tumor and metastasis (spreading to surrounding tissue) must be kept in mind.

The following treatment options are available:

  • Monitoring - This is required in those cases when the tumor is diagnosed before it causes any symptoms. A non-cancerous tumor is a tumor that does not compress the spinal cord or surrounding tissues. Regular and close monitoring of the tumor is required especially in older adults.
  • Surgery - removal of the tumor without any life-threatening complications along with removal of some healthy tissue surrounding it. This is often the first choice of treatment.Nowadays, due to newer techniques and advanced instruments, neurosurgeons can reach to those locations which were once inaccessible. The function of spinal cord and nerves is monitored while the surgery is done.
  • Radiation therapy - this procedure is performed to remove the remaining parts of the tumor after surgery. This is the first line treatment for metastatic tumors. Some anti-emetic medications are given to avoid excessive nausea and vomiting.
  • Stereotactic radiosurgery - In this procedure, radiation is delivered more precisely and accurately to the focus of the tumor. It uses different types of technology like Gamma Knife machine. Type of tumor and size has limited this kind of radiation therapy.
  • Chemotherapy - medications that can stop the growth or destroy growing cells are used. It can be used alone or in combination with radiation therapy.
  • Other drugs - surgery, radiation therapy or the tumor itself can cause inflammation inside the spinal cord, doctors use anti-inflammatory drugs like corticosteroids to reduce the swelling.

6 Prevention

It is difficult to prevent vertebral tumor. Tumors are a kind of disorder which do not have a particular etiology. It is a result of combination including genetic and environmental factors.

However, maintaining a healthy life, not smoking, avoiding alcohol and exercising regularly may help to prevent it to some extent.

7 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies

Although the alternative remedies are not proved to cure vertebral tumor, they may help to reduce the symptoms and provide relieve:

  • Acupuncture - inserting needles into pressure points may help to reduce the symptoms of cancer. The benefits and risks of acupuncture must be discussed with the doctor before actually undergoing the treatment.

8 Lifestyle and Coping

Lifestyle modifications are necessary in order to cope with vertebral tumor.

A diagnosis of cancer may be overwhelming and a person may lose all hopes of life.

Therefore, joining special groups that help people with similar condition discuss and overcome their problems. Such groups are also available online.

Getting enough information about the disorder may help. Family and friends should support a patient with vertebral tumors and not leave him or her alone.

9 Risks and Complications

Risk factors for vertebral tumor include having:

  • neurofibromatosis (hereditary disorder that develops near nerves related to hearing), 
  • Von Hippel-Lindau disease (non-cancerous blood vessel tumors),
  • a prior history of cancer (mostly cancer of spine).

Vertebral tumors both cancerous or non-cancerous can compress the spinal cord and nerves leading to loss of sensation below the level of tumor. It may also lead to problems of bladder or bowel movement. It can cause permanent nerve damage.

A vertebral tumor may become life-threatening depending on the location of the tumor.

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