It’s considered rare for a malignant (cancerous) tumor to develop within the spine, which is why symptoms can be overlooked or assumed to be related to something else. Though noncancerous (benign) spinal tumors can affect nerves and create problems, the concern is much greater with malignant spine tumors. Here’s a closer look at how tumors of this nature are diagnosed and treated.
A spinal tumor can develop in any part of the spine, from the spinal cord itself to supporting tissues and nerves. Initially, you may have a spinal tumor and not even know it. It’s also not unusual for affected individuals to hold off on seeing a doctor until they start to notice odd or recurring symptoms. While back pain is the most common symptom associated with spinal tumors, you may also experience:
• Discomfort extending to nearby areas, which could include arms and legs
• Difficulty walking and/or balance issues
• Sensitivity to pressure in the affected part of the spine
When symptoms are caused by a spinal tumor, they may initially be attributed to more common sources of spine-related pain, such as a fracture that might require vertebroplasty surgery. Santa Monica residents with spine pain should be aware that diagnosing a tumor often involves a review of symptoms and medical history as well as results from a physical exam and image tests. If an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan shows the presence of a spinal tumor, a tissue sample (biopsy) is usually collected with a needle that’s inserted into the tumor, and the tissue is tested to determine if the growth is benign or malignant. A treatment plan will then be put together based on the results of the biopsy.
If a spinal tumor is malignant, treatment typically involves the use of chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy to shrink or isolate the abnormal growth. Surgery is another common treatment option, since it’s important to prevent the tumor from affecting nearby areas. With a smaller tumor that’s showing signs of rapid growth, surgery is usually the main treatment recommended. If the tumor is larger, radiation and chemotherapy may be used first to shrink the tumor to reduce surgery risks. It’s also common for nearby tissues to be removed as well to minimize the risk of recurrence and make sure there are no lingering cancer cells.
After surgery, follow-up chemo/radiation therapy may be recommended to ensure all cancerous tissues have been targeted. Steroid medications (corticosteroids) are also sometimes used after surgery or during radiation treatments to reduce swelling.
With malignant spine tumors, the goal is ultimately to get the tumor out of your body. Fortunately, when such growths are detected early, many patients respond well to treatment. Because symptoms can be vague, it’s important to see your doctor or a Santa Monica spine surgeon if you’re noticing any unusual discomfort. Even if cancer isn’t detected, it never hurts to address any spine-related problem sooner rather than later.
Santa Monica residents who are experiencing symptoms similar to those listed above or having any type of spine issues should reach out to the spinal health experts at The Spine Institute. Our industry-leading physicians are pioneers in the use of cutting-edge technology and innovative techniques to treat all kinds of back and neck pain. To schedule a consultation, call one of our friendly representatives today at 310-828-7757.