A Spinal Cord Tumor is a Noncancerous (Benign) or Cancerous (Malignant) Growth in or Around the Spinal Cord

A spinal cord tumor is a growth in the spinal canal or on the bones of the spine. It may cause neurological issues, pain and even paralysis. Spinal cord tumors can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous).  Most cancerous spinal cord tumors are secondary cancers. This means they have spread from cancer that started elsewhere in the body.

Tumors that originate in the spine are rare and are usually noncancerous.

Treatment

At Penn State Cancer Institute, we treat the following spinal cord tumors: 

  • Metastatic spine tumors
  • Primary spine tumors
    • Astrocytoma 
    • Ependymoma 
    • Meningiomas 
    • Schwannomas or neurofibromas
  • Peripheral nerve tumors

Treatments Offered

Your treatment may include chemotherapy, radiation, surgery or a combination. We offer several surgical options for spinal cord cancer, including: 

  • Surgical decompression
  • Surgical fusion

We also offer alternatives to traditional surgery, including: 

  • Laser ablation
  • Stereotactic body radiation

Symptoms and Diagnosis

A spinal cord tumor is a growth in the spinal canal or on the bones of the spine.

Symptoms

Signs of spinal cord tumors can come on gradually or happen suddenly. The symptoms include: 

  • Back pain, particularly pain that worsens at night
  • Less sensitivity to cold, heat or pain
  • Loss of bladder or bowel function
  • Muscle weakness in various parts of the body 
  • Pain that radiates from your back to other parts of the body
  • Reduced sensation in your arms or legs
  • Trouble walking

Diagnosis

Spinal cord tumors may be diagnosed using one or more of the following tests:

  • A physical exam
  • Blood test
  • Imaging tests, such as X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) or positron emission tomography (PET) scans
  • Lumbar puncture (spinal tap)
  • Urine test
  • Tumor biopsy

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