Thankfully, spinal tumors are a rare occurrence. When abnormal growths do develop, early detection increases the odds of successful treatment. In adults, risk factors for this type of cancer typically include smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, body weight, and lifestyle habits. With children, these long-term contributing factors usually don’t apply or aren’t as impactful. However, there are some other risk factors for spinal tumors that are more specific to kids.
Having a family history of cancer or spinal tumors increases the odds of a child developing similar abnormal growths. Certain genetic conditions can also increase the possibility of having issues with spinal tumors during childhood. Some of these conditions include: • Tuberous sclerosis – A multisystem genetic disease characterized by benign tumor growth in vital organs • Neurofibromatosis (Type 1 and 2) – A disorder that causes tumors to form on nerve tissue • Von Hippel-Lindau disease – An inherited disorder that contributes to abnormal benign and cancerous cysts and tumors.
For treatment purposes, radiation is typically used to kill abnormal cells, shrink tumors, or ensure all affected tissues are cancer-free. However, a child treated with radiation therapy for another condition earlier in life or while in the womb may be at risk for developing spinal tumors because of this exposure. Today, there’s a better understanding of radiation-induced tumors that can increase the odds of early detection and treatment, although such tumors are considered rare.
A well-functioning immune system is what keeps cells healthy by minimizing damage from irregular molecules (free radicals). However, if a child has an underlying condition that affects the immune system, he or she may be at an increased risk of developing spinal tumors. There’s also an elevated risk of developing cancers of the lymph nodes and lymphatic system that may affect the brain and spinal cord when the immune system is compromised. Immune deficiencies in children are sometimes present at birth or from previous issues with other forms of cancer.
Secondary spinal tumors result from cancer that initially developed elsewhere before migrating to the spine. Also referred to as metastatic tumors, growths of this nature are more likely to occur than primary spinal tumors. In fact, the spinal cord is the most common location cancer spreads to when it develops elsewhere. Cancers that may spread to the spine include those that originally affected the thyroid gland, gastrointestinal tract, kidneys, lungs, or skin (melanoma). The first step in diagnosing a spinal tumor in younger patients is to meet with a Los Angeles spine surgeon, confirm the tumor’s presence, and determine if it’s cancerous or not. Children with smaller tumors that aren’t growing or causing pain may be periodically monitored with image tests. If surgery is necessary to remove the tumor, techniques involving microsurgery or minimally invasive methods may reduce the risk of injury to the spinal cord or adjacent nerves. With tumors that can’t be safely removed, treatment usually involves chemotherapy or radiation therapy. If you think your child is at risk of having a spinal tumor or another spinal condition, get in touch with The Spine Institute to figure out the best course of treatment. At The Spine Institute, we specialize in a wide array of surgical procedures such as extreme lateral interbody fusion surgery andcoflex back surgery. Los Angelespatients can call 310-828-7757 today to schedule an in-person evaluation.