A vertebral tumor develops in the space where the spinal cord is located (vertebral canal). As the tumor grows, you may experience back pain or radiating nerve pain, among other symptoms. While most back pain isn’t because of a tumor, it’s a possibility if other likely sources of discomfort have been eliminated or not conclusively linked to your pain. Even when a tumor is benign (non-cancerous), a point may be reached where treatment is needed.
What Are the Signs of Vertebral Tumors?
Initially, there may be no symptoms at all when a vertebral tumor develops. Any discomfort you experience may also depend on the size and location of the tumor within the spinal canal. Vertebral tumors can develop in any of the five sections of the spine (cervical spine, thoracic spine, lumbar spine, sacrum, and coccyx). As the tumor grows, it may affect nerve roots, blood vessels, or the spinal cord itself. Symptoms may include:
- Back pain that radiates to nearby areas
- Muscle weakness or a loss of sensation that affects arms or legs
- Pain relegated to the location of the tumorSome degree of paralysis due to nerve compression
- Reduced sensitivity to heat, cold, and pain
- Loss of bowel/bladder function
- Difficulty walking or maintaining balance
How Are Vertebral Tumors Diagnosed?
Physical and neurological exams are often performed to determine if a vertebral tumor is the source of back pain and other symptoms. Since symptoms can be vague and characteristic of common conditions like disc herniation, sciatica, and degenerative disc disease, be as descriptive as possible about any discomfort you are experiencing. For instance, pain from a herniated disc is often linked to movement and typically develops over time, but tumor-related pain tends to be more consistent and sudden. Diagnosis or confirmation of a suspected tumor may also involve:
- Spinal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Computerized tomography (CT) scans
- Injection of a contrast dye into the arm or forearm combined with an MRI or CT scan
- Biopsy (small tissue sample) to determine if the growth is malignant (cancerous) or benign
How Are Vertebral Tumors Treated?
If a tumor is small and noncancerous, periodic monitoring with image tests may be all that’s necessary. This may also be the preferred option if the tumor is in a location where surgery would present serious risks.
Treatment often involves radiation therapy either prior to considering surgery or after surgery. Radiation may be delivered in a highly targeted way with stereotactic radiosurgery. Chemotherapy uses medications to attack cancer cells and may be combined with radiation therapy.
Should surgery be possible and necessary, the entire growth is usually removed. If the tumor cannot be completely removed, radiation therapy may be used to destroy what’s left. Fusion surgery is sometimes required if removing the tumor causes the spine to become unstable, and there are also a variety of back fusion alternatives that may be beneficial.
It’s not known why vertebral tumors develop, although there is evidence to suggest genetic defects may play a role. Tell your doctor if you have a history of cancer since vertebral tumors tend to spread from cancers in other parts of the body (metastatic tumors). If detected and treated early, symptoms may go away entirely if there are no other unrelated sources of back pain.
Though vertebral tumors may not always result in the need for surgery, there are plenty of other conditions that require a minimally invasive procedure such as cervical artificial disc replacement or Coflex back surgery. At The Spine Institute Center for Spinal Restoration, we can diagnose the source of your pain and help you start down the path toward a pain-free life. Give us a call today at 310-828-7757 to schedule an appointment.