Spinal tumors are not that common, but the condition may cause debilitating symptoms. This article provides a brief overview about such symptoms.
A spinal tumor can be defined as a growth that develops in and around the spinal cord. Such growth can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Though rare, this condition is often caused by the spread of cancer (metastases) from other locations, like the breast, lungs, and the prostate. However, in some cases, such tumors develop in the spinal cord itself. If the tumor is caused by spread of cancer from any other location, it is called a secondary spinal tumor, and if it develops on its own, it is a primary spinal tumor. While the primary spinal tumors take longer to progress, it has been observed that the secondary ones progress very quickly.
While non-cancerous tumors may not cause much discomfort in other parts of the body, it is not the same, in case of the spinal cord. So, cancerous or non-cancerous, spinal tumors can often cause grave symptoms, which can be debilitating and sometimes life-threatening too. As the tumor grows in size, it can affect the bones of the spine, blood vessels, spinal cord cells, nerve roots, and meninges (one of the membranes that cover the brain and the spinal cord). All these can result in spinal tumor symptoms, which may start with back pain.
The symptoms may vary with the location, the type of the tumor, and the health condition of the person. Usually, tumors in the spinal cord cause symptoms over a large part of the body, while those located outside the spinal cord take time to grow and manifest themselves.
The most common symptom of a spinal tumor is back pain, especially middle and lower back pain. In case of a mechanical back pain, like in the case of muscle strain or disc injury, the pain reduces with rest. Those affected with spinal tumor experience constant back pain, which radiates to other parts of the body and worsens during night. It is also noted that this type of back pain cannot be relieved by pain medication or rest, and is worse while lying down. It can be either felt in the spine itself or extend to hip, leg, feet or arms. Other symptoms include fever, sciatica, and loss of appetite.
As mentioned above, spinal tumors can cause various symptoms, which can affect the daily activities of the affected people. Apart from back pain, the affected person may also experience abnormal sensations or loss of sensation, and muscle weakness, mainly in the legs. The legs may get numb and cold, coupled with muscle weakness. It makes it difficult for the person to walk, and he may suffer falls too.
Another symptom is decreased sensitivity to pain, heat, and cold. Spinal tumor symptoms may include bowel and/or bladder problems too. This results in incontinence (involuntary urination or defecation). As nerve damage is possible with spinal tumor, paralysis can be caused in any part of the body. The location of such paralysis depends on the type of compressed nerve. In case of large, non-cancerous tumors; spinal deformity, like scoliosis or kyphosis may also develop.
Spinal tumors are diagnosed through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and bone scanning. Some other tests may also be conducted. Spinal tumor treatment is based on the type and location of the tumor, and the age and health condition of the patient. The treatment is aimed at elimination of the tumor, and prevention of nerve damage. So, this condition has to be treated at the earliest to avoid complications, like nerve damage. While small, non-cancerous tumors are monitored regularly without any treatment (especially in older patients).
In some cases, the tumors are removed through surgery (if removable without causing complications). If the tumors are not removable through surgery, then radiation therapy is preferred. Newer methods, like stereotactic radiosurgery is also considered a good option for treating spinal tumors. Sometimes, chemotherapy is also used to treat this condition. Drugs, like corticosteroids are used in case of spinal compression, so as to reduce the inflammation associated with this condition.
If you experience any of these symptoms, especially constant back pain, which does not subside with medication or rest, consult a doctor to rule out the possibility of a spinal tumor. It is always better to get it treated at an earlier stage itself, rather than suffering the complications.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice. Visiting your physician is the safest way to diagnose and treat any health condition.