In general, spinal tumors are considered rare, since abnormal growths often form elsewhere and spread to the spine. When irregular tissues do develop in the spine, they’re not always cancerous. This is true of neurofibromas. These small benign tumors develop within the motor and sensory nerves (peripheral nerves) of the spine. Some of these abnormal growths develop independently, while others form in clusters, or groups.
Spinal neurofibromas account for about 3 percent of all spinal tumors, although this figure may be a bit low, since some people who have these tumors without symptoms may never be diagnosed. Neurofibromas develop from Schwann cells, which form and support the nerve sheaths outside the brain and spinal cord. This type of tumor isn’t considered preventable, but spinal neurofibromas are often treatable once detected. Here’s what you need to know about the diagnosis and treatment of spinal neurofibromas.
Most spinal neurofibromas are too small to produce symptoms. When symptoms do occur because of these growths, they may be initially 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 when neurofibromas grow and irritate or compress spinal nerves, symptoms may develop. If this happens, symptoms may include:
• Sudden or worsening back pain
• Reduced sensation in the affected area
• Noticeable weakness around the affected area
• A tingling or electric-like sensation when pressure is applied
• Issues with bladder control
If neurofibromas aren’t producing symptoms, they’re sometimes detected when an image test is performed for another type of spine-related problem. If a spinal growth is suspected based on a patient’s symptoms, an MRI is usually the preferred image test. To determine if a growth is really a neurofibroma or another type of tumor, a biopsy may be performed so tissues can be examined.
If it’s confirmed that a neurofibroma is contributing to the symptoms experienced, corticosteroid injections may be the first type of treatment recommended. The purpose of injections is to ease swelling and inflammation so pressure on nearby spinal nerves is reduced. However, surgery is the only way to permanently treat neurofibromas.
Surgical removal of neurofibromas is usually performed with minimally invasive techniques, which is the case with many spine-related procedures performed today. Surgery typically involves making small incisions to access the area where neurofibromas are located. Special instruments are used to carefully remove affected tissues without disturbing sensitive nerves. The goal of this type of surgery is to preserve as much healthy tissue as possible while also minimizing surgical risks such as bleeding and infection.
If the tumor can’t be safely or fully removed during surgery, the neurofibroma may be treated with radiation therapy to shrink it. Decreasing the size of the tumor can also ease pressure on the spinal cord, which may in turn ease symptoms. A similar technique is concentrated radiation, a form of radiation therapy involving a highly concentrated radiation dose that specifically targets the tumor’s growth.
Most spinal neurofibromas are treatable with surgery performed by a minimally invasive spine surgeon. Santa Monica residents who are experiencing symptoms similar to those listed above or are 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.